Permit me to lead you back to a solemn winter during a time of innocence. Imagine yourself in a small town on the shores of Georgian Bay in the 1970s. Meet a lonely yet brave 11 year-old girl - a girl on a mission to convince Mr. Young to let his pregnant daughter come back home.
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After she finished her soup and blew her nose again, Sera sat quietly and gazed at the rabbit painting above her booth. She took in the red, gold and green designs, the curves and simple patterns. She felt sadness. She felt a distant joy and contentment. She smiled. It was her first in a long time. I miss this, she thought.
The kitchen door swung open slowly. Carl Young emerged, wearing his kitchen whites, as usual and holding a towel. He approached Sera's booth with slow, even steps, wiping his hands.
Sera perked up nervously and smiled, "Hello, Mr. Young."
"Hello, stranger, " he responded.
"Would you like to join me?"
"Sure. Sure." he smiled briefly and sat across from her, "I guess I could take a break." He sighed and groaned as he sat down on the bench. Within seconds, Jenny swiftly brought over a coffee cup and saucer, filled the cup and dropped off the cream and sugar. Carl gave a curious look, almost surprised that his wife was so quick in serving him.
Sera bit her lip, looking down then slowly lifted her gaze to meet his tired eyes. He appeared old and sad. She rarely saw him sitting still for long periods.
"Happy New Year, Mr. Young."
"Happy New Year, Sera."
"Soon it will be the Year of the Rabbit, yes?"
"Yes, that's right," he responded, looking up at the painting.
Sera leaned forward, "It's my favourite year, you know, since I was born in it and.. that was the year you opened the restaurant."
Carl smiled slightly and nodded. "That's right. I forgot."
"I was wondering if you were going to have a celebration of any sort. You know, like an anniversary party?"
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that. I've been.... busy."
"You could invite a lot of people."
"Really?" he shifted in his seat.
"Sure. I could help with the decorations. I'm sure Dela and Gwen would like to help too."
"Sounds nice," he nodded, his eyes scanning the booths and front of the restaurant then took a sip of coffee.
"I miss Amy!" she blurted out.
Carl, closed his eyes, breathed out slowly and set down his cup.
"I miss her, Mr. Young. So do Dela and Gwen. So does.. Mrs. Young."
"I may just be a kid but I know she didn't do anything horrible. She's pregnant and yes by my brother. Stupid teenagers," she rolled her eyes, "Stupid. But.. but, it's not like she killed someone."
Carl looked at her sternly.
"Please, Mr. Young," she pleaded with a soft whisper, stretching her hands across the table, "Let her come back home. The place isn't the same without her. I miss coming here with my family. I miss that, Mr. Young."
"Sera..." he said in a tired manner.
"Please." Her green eyes watered and bore pitifully at him. He did not want to destroy her youthful innocence.
"Sera. It's a matter of honour, of family pride. She shamed the family. I gave her the best of everything and this is what happens... If this was another place and time, a girl in her situation would be…"
"I understand, Mr. Young. Well, I don't really ... I respect your opinion."
"If it's a matter of you not wanting her at home right now, can she come and stay with us?"
"Oh.. Now I see. Did your father send you here?"
"No! I came by myself. They don't know that I'm here. It was very hard for me to come here by myself especially seeing ..." she scowled, "seeing HIM here." her head jerked towards the front of the room.
"My friend was sent away with her mom because he hit her. I haven't seen her for months. I've only received one letter from her. I miss her. I also miss Amy. Dela and Gwen miss Amy. I miss coming here with my family. Please, please, can we just put things back the way they were?"
"I don't see how we can do that, Sera. My heart is broken. My family is shamed."
More people entered the restaurant, stomping the snow off their boots, shaking their hats and heading to join their companions.
"I.. I… should let you get back to work, Mr. Young." said Sera, rising, "Looks like the winter carnival has brought a lot of people out today."
"Yes, I should get back...."
Sera put Aunt Georgette's money on the table and slid it under her empty soup bowl. She grabbed her coat and got up to put it on.
Carl sat back and stared sadly at her.
"Thank you for the soup, Mr. Young. It was delicious and warm as usual."
"Thank you for dropping by, Sera."
"Happy New Year," she said as she put on her tuque, turned and walked quickly towards the front door.
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