Authors: Debbie Fuller Thomas
“That's too bad. Did you have to travel alone?”
He paused and pointed a chopstick at her, looking conspiratorial. “Your mother's been filling your head with stories. Valerie Young didn't goâit's not her department.”
“It's none of my business, but why does she get like this?”
“I don't have a clue. Maybe she's looking for an excuse to cut me out of her will.”
Rain paused with a bite of sushi poised. He looked more sober than sarcastic. “You're serious.”
“She did mention it, as a matter of fact.”
The teakettle screamed, and Rain considered his answer as she put her tea bag to steep. Her mother was fully capable of being vindictive. “What would that mean if she did?”
“Well, the house belonged to her when I moved in, and I haven't sunk a dime into it. So I guess I'm out. But that's not the real issue, is it?”
She studied his face as he concentrated on lifting the last bit of sashimi to his mouth. His face was lined and pudgy in the folds, like a quilt whose stuffing had lost its shape. He'd put up with so much from her mother, and stayed so even-keeled. He didn't react to her, but responded with a certain inner calm that Rain had often mistaken for compliance. It was an excellent trait for union negotiations, or hostage situations.
“Why do you put up with her, William? She's treated you so badly for such a long time.”
“In sickness and in health, Rain.”
“She can't hold you to that. You're not legally married.”
“In some states we would be by now. No, we've had some good years together and she doesn't deserve to be abandoned now.” He waved his chopsticks at her, and said confidentially, “Besides, whether she realizes it or not, she needs me.”
Rain smiled at him. “You're a good man, Charlie Brown.”
“You're a good girl, Rainbow Brite.”
William set his plate off to the side, placed his chopsticks diagonally across one corner, and brushed an imaginary crumb from the
table. “So, I understand that you and Hayden have called it quits.”
Rain sat back in her chair and cradled her teacup in both hands. How much should she really disclose to William? She was pretty certain that he would keep her confidence, but her mother was just upstairs, and sound traveled. For all she knew, Jude could be listening in.
“We had some disagreements and he moved out.”
“Ah.” William rubbed his chin, looking thoughtful. “Is there any chance you could work it out? Sometimes things seem less important when it comes down to losing someone you care for.”
When she didn't answer, he lowered his voice and leaned in. “It wouldn't have anything to do with starting a family, would it?”
Rain started to say no, but didn't want to lie to him. She nodded instead, while gently swirling her tea. The dregs lifted, floated, and settled back on the bottom.
“You know, I really don't want to talk about it. I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet.” She looked up, hesitating, and whispered, “I'm thinking of having a baby by myself.”
His eyebrows lifted in surprise and his mouth made an O. “You're very brave,” he whispered back. “Would that make me a grandfather?”
He hadn't argued with her or told her she was out of her mind, bless him. Rain reached across the table and put her hand on his, smiling. “You'll make a wonderful grandfather someday.”
He squeezed her hand and silently signed with the other, “I love you.”
“I love you back,” she said.
Rain stood and carried the containers to the counter where she transferred the few leftovers into separate plastic tubs. She wiped the edges and placed them on a shelf in the fridge. She almost closed the door, but quickly counted the containers and moved one down to the lower shelf, making the condiments and containers come out even. William took the plates to the sink and rinsed them, refusing her help and saying it would give him something to do for the evening.
“Well, if you won't let me help, then I need to say good-bye to Mom and head back.”
Rain went up and pushed open the door to her mother's room, tiptoeing quietly to her bedside. Her mother's face sagged in sleep, with her mouth open slightly and her eyes moving rapidly beneath her closed eyelids. Rain could see white roots in her thinning hair. It had been a defiance of cancer to keep as much hair as she had. Jude's arm lay on top of the blanket, and Rain placed her hand on it. Her skin felt dry and thin, without a cushion of fat beneath to soften it. Her mother startled awake when she spoke her name.
“William is back, Mom. I'm leaving now.”
Her mother closed her eyes and said a dreamy good-bye. Rain kissed her cheek and left.
How would her mother react to discovering that she could be a grandmother? Would she feel aged and resentful, or would it be a joy that Rain would cheat her from if she kept the knowledge to herself? It was just one more uncertainty for Rain to ponder on her long drive back through the traffic to Sacramento.
ebe carried the laundry basket of folded towels and linens to Dylan's car and wedged it between his stereo and his suitcase in the backseat. She mused that at least if he had an accident, flying glass would be minimal since most of his windows were blocked.
“Is this legal? You can't even see out of the back window.”
“I have the side mirrors,” he said, mashing down the blankets in the passenger seat to give him a clearer view.
“Are you sure you don't need some help moving in?” she asked. “We could drive over with you. How in the world are you going to move all of this up to your room?”
“Mom, I'll be fine. There's an elevator in the parking garage. These go up front,” he said, tossing his CD case onto the dash. “Traveling music.”
“There's something I forgot,” Bebe said, going back inside the house to retrieve an index card from the kitchen table. She hurried back to his car and showed it to Dylan. “This has emergency contact information in case you .Â .Â . well, just in case. In case someone needs to reach us.”
“Don't open the passenger door,” he said. “You'll cause an avalanche.”
Bebe went around and slid into the driver's seat. She reached over and slipped the index card into the strap of the sun visor of the passenger side.
“Mom, I'm a good driverâ”
“Other drivers aren't.”
“I'm not going to have an accident.”
“I know. It's just in case.”
Neil came out, surveyed the vehicle, and handed Dylan a credit card. “Here's a gas card. Don't let your friends use it.”
“Thanks. I won't,” he said, pulling out his wallet and sliding the card in front of his driver's license.
“You shouldn't have to use it much since you're living on campus. It's for when you get a job and for coming home. When do you think you'll be back?”
“I'll try to come back for Labor Day. There aren't any classes on Monday. Unless I get a job and I can't get off.”
“That's only a few weeks. Why don't you just plan to look for a job after Labor Day?” Bebe said.
“I'll run out of money before then.” He gave her his sweet, manipulative smile. “Unless you and Dad want to give me some cash.”
Neil laughed and said, “Just try to get time off, okay?”
“We'll send your brother's address when we hear from him. Make sure you write to him. You'd better take one last look around,” Bebe said. Then she followed him inside. She found his toothbrush in the stand and handed it to him as he scanned his room.
Finally, the time came to say good-bye. Bebe hugged him and made him promise to find good friends and remember who he was, just as she'd said to Scott. She encouraged him to check into the different ministries on campus and get plugged in somewhere. He promised to take it slow and to let them know when he got there safely. Although they would see him soon, it was still hard to say good-bye. It was more than going to collegeâit was the close of a chapter in his life, and of an era for them all.
Dylan waved as he pulled away, and they stood arm-in-arm in the empty driveway watching his car disappear in the distance, brushing away tears. They made their way back inside the quiet house, reassuring each other that they could call him and also keep in touch by email. He would be home in four weeks, full of excitement about college life.
“The game's on,” Neil said, taking a soda from the refrigerator and heading for the couch. He looked up expectantly while he changed channels with the remote, but she said she needed to clean up Dylan's room. Baseball had never been her thing.
Bebe stood in the doorway to his room and surveyed the damage. True to his nature, he'd waited to pack until the last minute and didn't have time to clean up before he left. She stuffed dirty laundry into his hamper and scooped up clean clothes that he'd decided not to take or had forgotten to take, and placed them neatly in his dresser. She made his bed and sat on the edge of it. Long ago, he had put away his baseball trophies and replaced his major league posters with legends of rock. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and The Who gazed down on her from the walls. She prayed that they wouldn't mean for Dylan what they had meant for her.
She suddenly felt overwhelmed by her now-empty nest. The distant ballgame roared from the family room, and she thought of Neil sitting out there watching it alone, without Dylan or Scott to enjoy it with him. He was a good husband and father, and she didn't deserve him.
She knew that this was a time when many couples split up, as though their children's leaving pulled the single thread that held them together, and their marriages unraveled at the seams. As her eyes filled again she tried to tell herself that she was being foolish. It wouldn't happen to them.
But why should their marriage be immune? She'd even seen it happen to couples in churchâpeople who'd seemed happy enough. She felt vulnerable, and dropped her head back, studying the curls in the plaster, boring a hole through the ceiling to heaven. She sensed Jimi
Hendrix gazing down on her, accusing. She had some bad stuff in her past that wouldn't let her go, even though she'd asked for forgiveness. Asked many times. She didn't rate any special favors from God.
“Hey,” Neil said, suddenly there in the doorway.
She quickly looked away and wiped her eyes. He sat down beside her on the bed and pulled her to his side. The warm scent of buttered popcorn clung to him.
“Dylan will be fine, honey. He'll be home before we know it.”
She nodded. When she trusted herself to speak, she ventured, “Maybe we should have gone away somewhere after all. Just the two of us.”
“We can still do that. Pick a weekend and we'll blow this Popsicle stand.”
She smiled and laced her fingers through his. “I'll check it out tomorrow.”
A distant roar from the television piqued Neil's interest and she said, “I'm okay. Go on back to the game.”
“Come out and watch it with me,” he said. Then he tempted her, saying, “I have contraband. Extra butter.”
Bebe followed Neil out to the living room and plopped down on the couch in front of the TV. He filled a glass with ice and presented it to her, along with a can of Diet Pepsi. A bowl of buttered popcorn sat on the coffee table.
“Such service,” she said in appreciation.
“We aim to please.”
He sat down beside her and she took in his rapt expression when the camera cut away to show Giants pitchers warming up in the bullpen.
It looked like a beautiful day in San Francisco, with the breathtaking views of the city against a hologram of blue sky, and the little boats poised to chase home runs that sailed into McCovey Cove.
“We could spend the weekend in San Francisco,” she ventured. “Maybe catch a Giants game.”
He glanced at her in mild surprise. “It won't be hard to get tickets.
They're having a lousy season.” He patted her knee. “I like the way you think.”
Later in the evening, Dylan called to say that he'd arrived safely and had moved his stuff in. It was all in a big pile in his room and he was going out with his new roommates for pizza. He thanked Bebe for the stash of snacks that she'd hidden in his laundry basket when he wasn't looking, and for the forty dollars that Neil had slipped into his pocket when he hugged him good-bye.
After the game, she wrote to both boys, telling them both how proud she was and how much she believed in them and prayed for them. Each had his own challenges to face, and she had no choice but to leave them in God's hands.