Copyright © 2006 by Leah Kelley




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    With a sigh, Cassie quickly checked her appearance one last time.  With the bit of weight she’d gained as of late, she looked like the Thanksgiving turkey.  “Coming!”


     She made a dash down the hallway to grab her cream cheese dessert from the fridge.  She was just trying to balance it in one hand while lifting her still-hot casserole in the other when her husband came hustling in with her coat.


     “You’re going to burn yourself,” he scolded, removing the casserole from its precarious perch on her arm.


     Placing the cold dessert on the counter, she allowed Noah to help her into the coat that she had a tendency to forget.  After smoothing the skirt of her fall denim jumper, she zipped her creamy fleece coat and offered her husband a half-hearted smile before she took the dessert into her hands again.


     He carefully removed her long red hair from inside her coat and tucked a stray lock behind her ear.  “You look pretty.”


     She wrinkled her nose at his compliment before she thought better of it, causing his look to turn a bit stern.  “Thank you,” she said hastily.  The last time she’d put herself down over her appearance he’d threatened to spank her.  She didn’t need that on top of everything else today.  Thankfully, the stern look was replaced by a smile as he picked up the casserole and led her from the house with a gentle hand on her back.


     “Smells good,” he said after they’d seated themselves in the car, handing her the casserole to hold in her lap so it wouldn’t spill.


     “I hope it’s good,” Cassie said.  Good enough she silently added.  Swallowing hard, she turned her eyes out the window and tried to focus on the true meaning of the holiday rather than her strained relationship with her mother-in-law.  As Noah put the car in gear and backed out of the drive, she lifted a trembling hand to push her hair back from her face and sighed.


     Noah caught the hand as she lowered it and brought it to his lips, his eyes on the narrow dirt road that led to his parent’s home a couple miles down the road.  “Why so nervous?”


     Cassie felt her bottom lip tremble.  “You know.”


     He sighed heavily.  “Cassie, I wish you could get over this problem you have with Mom.  I know she said some things at first that you took the wrong way, but I honestly don’t think she meant anything by them.”


     She gritted her teeth and turned her face toward the window.  Noah was a wonderful husband, the man of her dreams and her hero, but he had a blind spot when it came to his mother.  He thought she could do no wrong, but unfortunately, Cassie knew for a fact she could.


     “I’m… just nervous about meeting your sister… that’s all,” Cassie said, forcing herself to smile.  “I want her to like me.”


     Noah smiled in turn.  “Of course she’ll like you.  What’s not to like?  Besides, she won’t even be here ‘til around four.”

     Cassie turned her face again toward the window while Noah fumbled with the radio dial until he located K-LOVE and the voice of Ray Boltz filled the car.


     The lovely song failed to soothe her as she nibbled on her lower lip, her stomach clenched in dread.  Her mother-in-law never failed to make her feel inferior despite her attempts to be a good wife.  No matter how hard she tried to learn to cook or how clean she kept Noah’s home, Cassie was just not good enough for the son of the well-known evangelist, Richard Parsons.


     Since no one knew for sure who fathered Cassie and her mother made no secret of her love of men and booze, Mrs. Parsons saw Cassie as no more than poor white trash, a little girl with a dirty face and runny nose who’d spent her childhood running wild in the streets with no training in homemaking and certainly no religious instruction.  In short, someone who was ultimately destined to become just like her mother even though Cassie had determined at a tender age she would not allow that to happen.


     In foster care by the time she was twelve, Cassie studied hard in school and made decent grades, and though she wanted to go to college, she was forced to find a job, instead, in order to support herself since her foster care ended when she reached the age of eighteen.


     Noah seemed to know as well.  His blue eyes found and held hers in a possessive stare until he could make his way across the fellowship hall to introduce himself.  They were married less than five weeks later, much to his mother’s horror.


     Cassie glanced at Noah’s handsome profile, still unable to believe he’d been interested in her, a short, slightly chubby waitress with little to offer except all the love and adoration she had in her heart.  He caught her eye and winked at her, causing Cassie to send up a prayer.  She so wanted this day to be happy for Noah.  Reverend Parsons was home and Noah was excited to have his whole family together again.  He loved his family deeply.  It hurt him badly that his mother and wife didn’t get along well, and Cassie would do anything to change that for Noah’s sake.


     She prayed Noah’s sister would not see her in the same way as his mother, but Cassie didn’t hold high hopes.  Since she’d married into the Parsons family a little over six months ago, she’d heard nothing but high praise for the little sister who had married and moved to Chicago only a month before Cassie met Noah.  Often that praise came from her mother-in-law with the unfavorable comparison of Cassie to Little-Miss-Perfect.  Needless to say, Cassie did not look forward to meeting another of the Parsons women.


   Though it was only ten in the morning, already a mouthwatering aroma came from the kitchen.  Mrs. Parsons met them at the door, wiping her hands on her apron before she took the casserole from Noah’s hands with a puzzled look and went to take it into the kitchen.  Reverend Parsons took the dessert from Cassie and laid it on the coffee table without a thought before he wrapped her in a huge bear-hug.


     “How’s my favorite daughter-in-law?” he asked.


     She wrinkled her nose at him but grinned.  “I’m your only daughter-in-law, and I’m fine.”


     He shook hands with Noah while Cassie removed her coat and hung it in the coat closet.  She was removing her shoes when Mrs. Parsons came back from the kitchen and clucked her tongue over the cold dessert still lying on the coffee table.  With a disapproving glance at Cassie, she scooped it up and headed back into the kitchen.  Neither man noticed the exchange that made Cassie want to chase after her mother-in-law and explain that Reverend Parsons laid the dish on her expensive coffee table, not Cassie.  Instead, she placed her shoes neatly in the corner and took Noah’s coat from where he’d flung it on the back of the chair and hung it in the coat closet.


     While the men caught up on each other’s lives, Cassie ignored the sour churning of her stomach and padded into the kitchen to see if there was anything she could do to help with dinner.

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