Authors: Debbie Fuller Thomas
Toni e-mailed them all to say that a friend of Lawrence's had graciously offered his home on the coast near Carmel for their celebration weekend. It had plenty of room for them to spread out and a breathtaking ocean view that would more than make up for any unpleasantness that might occur due to excessive togetherness over the weekend.
Rain had to chuckle at the dynamics that always ignited when the former roommates got together. It was a wonder their spontaneous
combustion hadn't burned down that Victorian they shared. They sometimes still treated Rain like an adolescent, but she no longer took notice. She would forever be the baby they had all helped to raise. What she had noticed was her mother's insinuation that she and Bebe were keeping secrets from her. Why, now? Why, at the end of her own life, would she suddenly want to be involved in Rain's?
She made a note on her calendar about Scott's going away party, though she wouldn't have forgotten it. She had nothing else to do. She was always included in Bebe's family events, even though she wasn't related. Bebe could use the extra support when it came to her family, and especially at this time when Scott was leaving for unknown territory.
At lunch, she narrowly missed being caught by a coworker as she cruised Craigslist for baby furniture as she ate a salad at her desk. She had already Googled baby name sites earlier in the day and added a few Gaelic names to her running list for boys. She had no problem with girls' names. If it was a girl, it would be Isabella Grace. Or Julia Danae. Something a girl could live with. Anything but Rainbow Star.
What had her mother been smoking?
She did more online research about in vitro and read an article about frozen embryos being just as healthy and weighing more at birth than fresh. Fresh or frozen. It sounded more like vegetables than babies. Not babiesâembryos.
She made a mental note to stop by Whole Foods for sushi on her way home. Or for whatever she wanted. She didn't have to check with anyone else about dinner, and that was liberating. The house stayed cleaner, too, now that Hayden was gone. She had control of the remote and there were no little spikes of hair in the bathroom sink from his shaving, and only one towel hung in the bathroom. No shoes left in the living room, or coats draped over chair backs.
And no one to rehash the day with before sleep.
Sometimes she felt conspicuous in the checkout at the grocery store. She would examine her cart and realize that by the frozen entrees and single cartons of Ben and Jerry's, anyone could see she was single.
Near the end of her lunch break, she pulled up the donor catalog search information, checking boxes at whim. The donor she created was a cheaper version of Mr. Stanford Grad All-Starâa tall Caucasian with curly brown hair and hazel eyes with fair skin tone with a degree in engineering. With a start, she realized that what she ended up with was Hayden.
ebe pulled up to the Starbucks on her way to the clinic, but when she saw the long line of cars winding around to the drive-through window, she parked and went inside instead. She wore her favorite purple scrubs with the Dalmatian print that always drew attention, and the barista recognized her.
“Grande bold with room?”
Bebe said yes and handed over her Starbucks card with the hula dancer on the front.
“I love this card,” the girl said. “I'm getting one when we go to Maui at Christmas.”
Bebe thanked her, and when she took her coffee to the island to load it with Splenda, there, standing tall, was a young Marine in his dress blues. He politely moved aside to make room for her while he stirred his coffee. Bebe couldn't help but stare. The crisp, commanding quality of his uniform was softened by the fact that he was some mother's boy.
Bebe yearned to ask him .Â .Â . what? She turned to him, fearing he
would leave before she knew what she wanted. “Can I ask you a question?” she blurted out.
He straightened taller, if that was possible. “Yes, ma'am.”
She suddenly felt tongue-tied. What
she want to know? Everything. Can it be done? Is it as bad as I've heard? How did you make it through? Awkward seconds went by before she finally admitted, “Oh, I .Â .Â . I don't know what to ask.”
He stood there, waiting respectfully, perhaps sensing the struggle inside of her.
She focused on the medal over his heart. “I see you're a sharpshooter.”
“Yes, ma'am.” Still, he waited.
“My son leaves for boot camp in a week.”
To her chagrin, her eyes brimmed with tears. The young man inclined his head and spoke quietly between them. “You're worried about him.”
She nodded with an ache in her throat.
He said, “It's hard, and it's arduous, but it's doable. He'll be fine.”
She smiled up at him briefly and he purposefully met her eye. He couldn't have been more than nineteen, and he was comforting her like a sage. She murmured her thanks, and left.
Bebe sat in her car wiping away tears until her coffee cooled. She hadn't realized her feelings were so raw, so close to the surface. She said a prayer asking for strength and comfort, and realized with a start that God had sent this young man into her path to assure her that boot camp was “doable.” That was the word he'd said. Doable.
God loved her that muchâenough to send comfort before she even realized that she needed it.
She knew others would scoff at her simplistic belief that it had been more than just a chance meeting. But how often did one even see a Marine in his dress blues? She could have queued up with the other cars in the drive-through instead of going inside, or passed the young man without gathering her courage to speak. She could have stopped at a light and missed him altogether, or a whole list of other possibilities.
But none of those things had happened, and she didn't believe it was chance.
She always marveled at the unexpectedness of God's undeserved love. She, of all people, didn't deserve it.
She drove around for a while to gather her emotions before reporting to the clinic. Neil was reading a patient's file at his desk when she arrived and could tell that she'd been crying. She told him about her encounter and they comforted each other. The thought occurred to her of how hard it would be to go through something like this alone.
“Mom, we're here,” Bebe called as she pushed open the screen door of the farmhouse with her arms laden with bags and dishes. Scott and Dylan followed with coolers. They were soon enveloped by the ample arms of her mom and her sister-in-law, Karen, who exclaimed over how much they'd grown since the spring.
“Take the coolers out to the barbeque,” Bebe told the boys, and they passed on through to the backyard to deliver them and find their cousins.
“Where's Neil? He's not working today, is he?” her mother asked while they unloaded the hot dogs into the fridge.
“No, Mom, he's outside. He wouldn't miss Scott's party. Rudy's showing off his new car.”
Karen leaned over the kitchen sink to look out the window. “That Rudy. It's not ours, he borrowed it from the lot.” She turned on the faucet and starting washing a colander full of purply-red tomatoes. “You know your brother. Always hoping to stir up a little business.”
Bebe went on through to the backyard where she was greeted by Max, an Australian shepherd mix, and a collie named Bandit who were overjoyed to see company. She loved on them for a moment, and then she hugged her dad and told him that Neil would be out soon. She embarrassed both of her teenage nephews by planting huge kisses on their cheeks. They suckerpunched Scott in the arm and gave him grief about
joining up. She noticed on her way back inside with relief that her brother Bobby wasn't among them.
Bebe picked up a gorgeous purple tomato from the windowsill, smelling the mouthwatering tang. “Did you pick these today, Mom?”
“The Cherokee Purples? Yes. And those Brandywines. You two can slice some up and put them on a plate.”
Bebe washed her hands and joined Karen at the sink, pulling out her mother's cutting board and a knife. “They wanted $2.59 a pound for Heirloom tomatoes in the grocery store.”
“You girls can take some home with you when you go. I've got more in the garden.”
Karen lightly elbowed Bebe and gave her a wink. “Thanks, Mom,” she called.
“Is Bobby coming?” Bebe asked, as nonchalantly as possible.
“He'll be here for dinner.”
“Your brother had some business to take care of with Frank. That's our new foreman.”
“Does Sal still pick for you?”
“No, he's too old now. He lives in the trailers year-round. Pilar died last winter and his kids finished school and moved away awhile ago. He still doesn't speak much English.”
She handed Bebe cucumbers and green and yellow peppers to slice.
The kitchen was already heating up, and Bebe brushed back damp hair from her forehead. “The vines look great. Who do you sell to now?”
“I don't know. You'll have to ask Poppa.”
Bebe and Karen sliced the vegetables and grated cheese for the salad as her mom patted out hamburger rounds. “This is the last of our beef. Poppa will have to butcher in the fall.”
Bebe's maternal aunt and two uncles each trickled in with their families. Her father's family still lived in North Dakota. She hadn't seen them since she was a child. Her mother sent the men out to the backyard; the women she put to work in the kitchen. When Neil came in to see if he could help, she turned him around and shooed him out the door.
Karen and Bebe exchanged a look, and Karen said, “Come on, Mom, he's a surgeon. He's safe with a knife.”
“Men don't belong in the kitchen,” her mother-in-law answered as she dug in the pantry for buns.
Bebe rolled her eyes with her back to her mother and Karen quietly snickered.
Rain arrived just as they put the meat on the grill and Bebe's mom greeted her as if she were one of her own, expressing her sorrow about Jude's illness. Bebe wasn't surprised when Rain explained simply that Hayden couldn't come. She had brought a container of store-bought black bean salsa and whole-grain corn chips. Bebe gave her a hug before she went out to the backyard. Bebe grabbed a chip-and-dip serving bowl from the cupboard, as she knew her mother wouldn't want the containers on the table.
Rain was friendly to the family, but reserved, as Bebe knew she would be. Theirs was the only extended family Rain had known growing up.
Bebe went to the laundry porch for a few more tomatoes, and saw Rain lean in to give Neil a big hug. He kissed her on the cheek and Bebe smiled. She was so beautifulâlike a daughter to them both. Sometimes, she had to remind herself that Rain wasn't a young girl anymore.
When Rain first moved in with Hayden, they saw less of her, partly because Hayden had some family in the area, and partly because Bebe's parents didn't approve of Rain's living arrangements, being unmarried. There had been a huge blowup between Bebe and her parents when they found out. Bebe defended Rain's right to make her own choices, even if she didn't agree, and pointed out how unchristian it would be to withdraw their love from her considering her unorthodox upbringing with Jude. In the end, at least her mother appeared to offer Rain her unconditional love.