Authors: Debbie Fuller Thomas
Toni beamed with the memory. “I wore it with style, didn't I? And
I had a macramÃ© bag with an extra-long strap that elongated my body.”
Rain leaned toward Bebe and asked, “Were they always this bad?”
“Yes,” Bebe answered emphatically. Both Mare and Toni stopped mid-argument and looked at her. “Can you imagine the four of us living in the same apartment house for four years? It's a wonder they didn't kill each other.”
Toni lifted a penciled eyebrow and tilted her head at Rain. “You were there, too, little missy. I remember the time you stuck a fork into the electrical socket in the kitchen. Scared us crazy. It's a wonder you survived at all.”
Mare added, “I remember that you were forever cutting teeth. The drool just soaked up all your little T-shirts. We knew what you'd eaten by the color of the stains. Some stains weren't identifiable, as I recall. And you absolutely refused to wear bibs.”
“I wasn't merely a baby, I was a social experiment.” Rain glanced up at the handsome young server as he sat her plate of tilapia and mango chutney in front of her, and she flushed pink.
Bebe had visions of two-year-old Rain in her little girl undies sitting in an inflatable kiddie pool on the sideyard of the Victorian they all shared. Drinking out of plastic butter tubs and spitting the water back into the pool. Leaves and blades of grass floating in the water that her bare feet had tracked in. Her wispy brown hair sticking to her forehead and neck. The way she folded up in your arms when you wrapped her in a towel.
“So, what are you up to, Toni?” Jude asked. “Still a kept woman?”
Toni smiled demurely as Rolf set a salad before her. She waited until he'd left to answer. “I don't
to work, if that's what you mean. It's not a crime to marry rich, you know.”
Jude tapped her finger on the tablecloth. “Betty Friedan is spinning in her grave.”
“Well, spin, spin, spin,” Toni answered, drizzling dressing over her greens while giving her a playful smirk. “Betty might be surprised.”
“Remind me what Lawrence does again?” Bebe asked, changing the subject.
“He gives away grant money to colleges. That's how we met.”
Rain leaned forward. “Tell me about it.”
Toni smiled dreamily. “He came to the journalism department where I taught and, what do you know? My department got the grant. We had a lot of competition from other departments. A lot of jealous little girls, but, I don't know, something evidently tipped the scale in my favor.”
Mare muttered, “Spare us the details.”
Bebe asked, “Do you still write?”
Toni looked up, surprised.
“You wrote stories when we were in school. Some of them were pretty good, as I remember. One was published in the school's journal.”
Toni shrugged. “I write a little. Whenever the mood strikes.”
Bebe saw Mare glance covertly at Toni. Toni asked about Neil and the clinic, and Bebe answered that everything was going fine.
Jude examined her fingernails. “If you had stayed in nursing instead of going to veterinary school, you could be my hospice nurse.”
“Well, you dodged
bullet,” Toni blurted. Everyone looked horrified at Toni, and she waved her hand. “Sorry Judeâit's the mimosa talking.”
Bebe folded her arms. “I remember how enthusiastic you were when I chose this field. Back then you said nursing was for smart but unenlightened women who thought it wasn't their place to be doctors.”
“And I was right. As I recall, you were one of only five women in your graduating class.”
“We're back in the saddle again,” Toni said, under her breath.
Mare chuckled. “Next, we'll be protesting at recruiting stations all over California.”
“Well, I'm out,” Bebe said, before taking a sip of her drink and avoiding eye contact with anyone.
“But it would be like old times,” Mare said, teasing. “You used to drop everything for a protest.”
Bebe looked at her like she had lobsters coming out of her ears. “You're delusional, Mare. I did not.”
Mare glanced at the others. “Wow, that struck a nerve. Sorry, Bebe.”
Toni leaned across the table toward Mare. “What planet have you been on? Scotty joined up. He's a leatherhead now.”
Bebe corrected her, “Leather
Toni shrugged. “Same thing. Different body part.”
“My, my,” Jude said quietly. “So our boy's gone over to the dark side.”
“He's my boy,” Bebe told Jude pointedly. “And he's very much not on the dark side.”
“Of course he's not,” Mare said, shaking her head. “But, how did it happen?”
“Neil and I came back from our vacation in Maui and he'd enlisted with a friend.”
Mare reached over and squeezed Bebe's arm. “I always felt sorry for you, stuck in that house without a single female to balance all that testosterone.”
“She always had Rain,” Jude said. There was a long, awkward moment before Bebe answered as though she hadn't heard.
“For the time being, I have a houseful of men. But Dylan is starting school at McFarlane in a few weeks, and Scott has to report to the recruiting office a week from tomorrow.”
“Isn't there anything you can do to stop him?” Mare asked.
Bebe deliberately kept her gaze steady and averted from Mare. “This is something he's always wanted to do. Neil and I have seen it coming for a long time. It's not anything we have control over. And no matter how we feel about the situation, we support him one hundred percent. At least he's in the reserves. He should be home for Christmas.”
Jude sat back in her chair with a grim look on her face. “Has he seen the news clipping?”
Bebe lifted her chin. “No, he hasn't. And there's no reason to show it to him. That was more than thirty years ago and anyway, things were different then.”
“I wonder if your brother feels the same way.”
Toni scowled at Jude and turned to Bebe. “Tell Scotty we're proud
of him, Bebe. And give me his address so I can send him something nice at boot camp.”
“Sure, Bebe. Arnie and I will write, too.” Mare grew thoughtful. “I don't know, Toni. Can they accept packages in boot camp? I found a recipe for high-energy granola bars that would pack well and they're so healthy. I can make some for you, too, if you like, Jude.”
Jude stared down Mare, who said, “Or not.”
“It must be hard to have them both leave at the same time, Bebe. That old empty nest thing,” Toni said. “Not that I ever had one. Lawrence's nest was empty when I married him.”
“I haven't had one either,” Mare said with a sigh. “They won't leave. Autumn split with Ty and brought the kids home to live with us, just when Crystal finally got her own place with Barrett.”
“So, Rain, how is your significant other?” Jude asked, swirling the ice in her glass.
Rain had been sitting back, listening to the conversation, but Jude had radar for such things. “I haven't seen Hayden lately. He, um, we decided to call it quits.”
Mare crooned, “Oh honey, I'm so sorry.”
Toni was assuring Rain that she would find someone better soon, when Mare broke in, “Was he cheating on you? Because there have been times over the years that Arnie cheated on me, and let me tell you, sometimes I think it would have been easier to just throw him out and start over.”
Toni looked at Mare, incredulous. “He was cheating on his first wife with you when you met him in art class. With you and probably every other female student in Design.”
Mare glanced at the people at the table near them and motioned for Toni to keep her voice down. “Well, that's exactly what's kept me from throwing the first stone, so to speak.”
Jude said to Mare, “You should pay him back in kind. He certainly deserves it.”
Mare's jaw dropped. Then she added, lowering her voice, “What would Autumn and Crystal say? Besides, it would be a sin.”
“That old Catholic guilt,” Jude said. “You never get away from it.”
“Leave her alone, Jude,” Bebe said.
Jude looked up sharply, and then her countenance relaxed. “Oh, that's right, you're religious now.”
Bebe let it go. This wasn't the time or the place to continue the argument between Jude's idea of being religious and Bebe's of making peace with her Creator.
“Well, at least I married him.” Mare twirled her wedding ring with her thumb. “I started going to Mass again, too.”
Toni leaned in, resting her elbow on the table and her chin on her knuckles. “So tell us, Rain, did you throw Hayden out? Because if you did, I'm sure you had a very good reason, which you don't have to tell us, if you don't want to.”
“No, it was nothing like that. We just had .Â .Â . differences. That's all.” She folded her arms and glanced over at Bebe. “I don't feel like talking about it.”
Bebe looked up to find Jude studying her.
“You don't seem surprised, Bebe. I guess you already knew.”
Bebe didn't look at Rain. “Well, we have coffee together occasionally. It's hard to keep something like that a secret for long.”
“And other secrets, too, perhaps.” Jude slowly extricated herself from the oversized chair and excused herself to go to the restroom.
They all relaxed, exhaling.
“Wow.” Mare folded her arms across her chest. “We haven't even discussed the Celebration of Life yet.”
“Maybe today we can get an idea of just what she has in mind, and we can meet later to divvy up the responsibilities,” said Bebe.
Mare snorted. “You think she's going to let us do that? When has she ever relinquished control of anything?”
“She doesn't look well,” Toni said, then realized and reached across to gently tweak Rain's arm. “Sorry, darling.”
The server refreshed their drinks and left the bill on the table. The conversation paused awkwardly when Jude came back to the table and slowly settled into her chair.
Bebe plunged in. “How are you doing, Jude?”
“Well, my oncologist says I'm dying.”
Bebe saw her glance around the table, noting their reactions.
Mare's focus shifted to the centerpiece of exotic flowers in the middle of the table and Toni ran her finger around the base of her champagne glass while sneaking a look at Rain.
“But that's why we're here, isn't it?” Jude continued. “It's been years since we've all connected. I'm not surprised that it would take something this drastic to get us all back together.” Jude took a sip of her pomegranate juice. “It seems appropriate that it should just be the five of us again. Just like the old days.”
“Mom,” Rain said, giving her a chastising look.
“Sorry, dear. This is difficult for you, isn't it?”
“Of course it is,” Rain said, “but it's hard for everyone to find time when we all have busy schedules, and we live hours from each other in every direction. William had toâ”
“William didn't have to âanything.' I drove myself here.”
They all looked at her. Suddenly she appeared tired and drawn, with more wrinkles than her age should have to account for.
She lifted her chin defiantly. “What?”
“You look great, Jude,” Mare said. “We just want to make sure you're taking care of yourself, that's all.”
“I've taken care of myself for fifty-seven years. I guess I can continue to do it.”
Rain looked away, seeming frustrated.
“So, what exactly did you have in mind when you said you wanted a Celebration of Life?” Bebe asked.
Jude laced her fingers and rested her elbows on the armrests like a queen on a throne. “I want us all to go away for a weekend somewhere to plan one last contribution. One last chance to make a difference. For me, at least. You all seem to have an unlimited amount of time at your disposal.”
They each sat silently brooding. Toni squinted at Jude. “When you say âmake a difference,' what exactly do you mean?”
Jude looked at her like she was dense. “What do you think I mean? I mean that we used to believe in things, we championed causes, we weren't afraid to speak out. Don't you remember the university, putting ourselves on the line for what we believed in?”
Toni lowered her voice. “That was almost forty years ago, Jude.”
Mare protested, “We're too old for that stuff. I was joking about picketing the recruiters' stations. I'm a business-owner now.”
Jude closed her eyes for a few moments and the others glanced at each other. Finally, she opened them and said in an overly patient voice, “It's not that we're too old for that, Mare, but there are more efficient means to use now. We need to brainstorm.” She looked around at her subjects. “So, which weekend is good for all of you?”
They had to settle on the second weekend in December to meet for Jude's Celebration of Life. Rain wished they didn't have to wait so long, but everyone had commitments. Mare had to prepare for a big organic textile show in Atlanta set for October, and Toni and Lawrence had scheduled a villa in Tuscany for four weeks, followed by a trip to New York. Scott would graduate from boot camp in October, followed by ten days' leave before he had to report back to Camp Pendleton. Bebe vehemently guarded that time, saying she would have almost no contact with Scott for the thirteen weeks that he would be gone. Thanksgiving came soon after. Rain told Bebe privately that her mother had treatments scheduled, too, and she wasn't sure how Jude would respond to them. They all crossed their fingers.