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Knock-Knock-Knock-Knock-Knock. A slight pause. Knock-Knock.

Nita expelled a puff of air. "Just come in already, Mom!"

Rachel's entire body tensed. Her muscles pulled against their tendons. The right side of her face began to itch something horrid. As the bedroom door creaked open, Rachel flung the palm of her hand into her cheek and rubbed it furiously.

Helene peeked into the room. "Can I come in?" she asked with a bright, enigmatic smile.

Rachel grinned back. "Yeah, you can come in."

Helene tiptoed into the room as though she were being tentatively admitted into an exclusive club. She skirted past Amorey and took a seat on the bed between Nita and Rachel.

Rachel shifted to make room for her.

"Ah! My girls!" Helene spread her arms and enveloped both Rachel and Nita in a bony hug. A warm and filling sort of feeling settled into Rachel. It spread throughout all of her being, reaching down into into her toes.

Helene still smelled musky, slightly sweaty, and very nearly gritty. As if something mineral had settled into the pores of her skin. She had a dusty and exerted sort of aroma. It still reminded Rachel of an old, well-used purse. She felt the bones of Helene's ribs, as she was pushed into the thin and scratchy material of Helene's t-shirt.

Releasing both of them, Helene shifted back farther on the bed. She ran a well-chewed hand through her unnaturally black hair and gave another dazzling smile.

"My Rachel," she sighed. It's so nice to be here with you. We're a family again. Oh! We should have done this a long time ago.

"I know," Rachel agreed. "I hope that I get to see you guys all the time now."

Helene reached over and gave Rachel's knee a vigorous shake. "Well, I did a lot of ass-kissing and now your grandmother is gonna let you spend Christmas break with us."


Rachel jumped off the bed, an enormous smile cracking her face wide open.

"Really? Really? Oh my gosh! She didn't even want you to come for dinner at first. I really get to come over for Christmas break? That's three whole weeks! I get to stay at your house? I can't wait! What does your house look like? Do you have a big backyard?"

Chuckling, Helene replied, "Listen, our house is nothing fancy like your Nan has here. Tavio is gonna move his computer and desk into our bedroom and you can stay in his computer room. It's really small. That's why it's not usually a bedroom." Helene jerked her head in Nita's direction. "Nita and Amorey share a room. It really is a bit tight. Like open the door and there is the bed tight. Nothing except one piece of furniture will fit in there. But for just a few weeks it'll be fine. And if you like staying with us, we can use that as your room all the time. Maybe we can even paint it and put some posters up."

Rachel hopped up and down, spun in a circle, and did a little dance. "I'm so exited. I can't wait! Next week is my concert, then we get Christmas, then I get to come over and stay with you guys. This is the best!"

"Next week is my concert," a tiny voice repeated.

"Yes, Amorey," Rachel laughed. "I'm singing at a charity concert next week. I sing all the time and get a lot of solos because my voice is so good."

She was addressing Amorey, but speaking to be heard by Helene. Her mom didn't know she was an incredible singer, and it was desperately important to Rachel that her mom know this. People loved her when they heard her sing.

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