Authors: Debbie Fuller Thomas
“You'll be rooming with the commandant,” Toni said as she dropped the box of art supplies onto the bed. “Have a great year.”
Toni went back to her room. They stood watching her go with an awkward silence between them.
“Did I say something wrong?” Mare asked.
Bebe grimaced. “Who knows? I just got here myself. Maybe she was offended when you called her Jude. Come on, I'll give you the tour.”
She led her through to the kitchen and Mare followed. “Who's Jude? Is there something I should know about her?”
Bebe paused, frowning. “Um, just don't hang up any religious pictures or icons or anything.”
Mare's blue eyes widened. “I didn't bring any.”
She showed Mare around and offered her a drink, but she declined.
“I'll just go and unpack,” Mare said, looking a little unsettled. “I need to get centered.”
Bebe watched her go back toward the bedrooms and felt for her. What would life be like rooming with Jude? She went back to her own unpacking, and came out later to scrounge something to eat. She wasn't sure yet how they were handling the division of groceries, but she could surely pay someone back for a few crackers and some peanut butter. When she was done, she cleaned up her dishes and put them back in the cabinets to hide the evidence, just in case.
Jude came home later and met Mare. They ordered take-out pizza for dinner to mark their first night together and held a meeting at the dining room table to decide on the ground rules of their arrangement. It was obvious that Jude saw herself as the first in command since her name was on the lease.
“And I've invited some friends over on Friday night for a little party, so you guys can meet some really cool people.”
Bebe glanced from Mare to Toni, trying to read their thoughts.
Toni said, “Fine by me.” Then she added, lifting an eyebrow, “But how much is it going to cost? I don't have a job yet.”
“Don't worry about it,” Jude said, waving her hand, dismissively. “There'll be plenty to go around.”
“What about the neighbors?” Mare asked. “Will they complain?”
“We're surrounded on all sides by other students. They'll probably drown us out.” Jude popped the top on her second beer. “We need to work on finding a kitchen table and some chairs. And a TV. There's
too much going on in the world right now to be out of touch. I don't suppose anybody has one to spare at home? Maybe that they could bring back after the break?”
They looked from one to the other and shook their heads. Bebe didn't even know of a family that owned more than one television.
“There's a protest rally scheduled next week,” Jude said. “We should all go.”
“What are they protesting?” Mare asked. “Classes haven't even started yet.”
“All the more reason to start the year off right. We're fighting for change at the university. For the right as students to govern ourselves. I guess some of the professors are even talking about going on strike to support it.”
Bebe wasn't too sure of this, but she was curious. Jude must have sensed the hesitation it caused in the roommates.
“You don't have to join, just check it out.”
They all agreed, and so it began.
ain dreaded Sunday mornings now that Hayden was gone. Their routine for almost seven years had been to wake to the hiss and the aroma of coffee beans programmed to brew at 8:00, which they enjoyed propped up with pillows fluffed behind their backs in bed as they read the Sunday paper cover to cover. Today would have been Hayden's turn to bring in the paper and the coffee.
Rain pulled on a light robe as she went into the kitchen for her coffee. She hadn't bothered to wear one until Hayden left. Somehow she now felt exposed running around the house in her camisole and baggy shorts. As if a robe would be some kind of protection. It made no sense, and she knew it.
Noah curled around her ankle while she stood by the coffeepot, his stub of a tail twitching as he meowed. “Hungry?” she asked. “You must have really worked up an appetite last night.” She shook some crunchies into his bowl. “Next time you cry at my window at 3:00 a.m., I'm dropping you back off at the clinic.”
Bebe had introduced her to Noah after he was brought to the clinic
by an elderly man who found him treading water in a ditch in the pouring rain. He hadn't been even three months old, and his tail was so badly infected that it had to be amputated. He wasn't feral, but he didn't have a chip and they couldn't locate his owner, so they nursed him back to health and Rain adopted him.
It occurred to her that, although he did provide some company, she'd had too many one-sided conversations with Noah in the last four weeks.
She had cancelled the Sunday paper in a burst of anger when the carrier called to renew two weeks before. When she thought about it afterward, she realized what a sensible thing it had been. It was one less thing to carry down to the Dumpster and she saved some money. She only enjoyed the front page and the entertainment section, anyway.
She settled into bed with her laptop and her coffee and read the paper online instead. She checked her e-mail, deleting miscellaneous trash and spam that had gotten through the filter. She checked her Facebook page, but there were no messages or updates. She removed some pictures she'd posted of both of them at Bodega Bay and one at his last year's birthday dinner at Luigi's. None of her friends were online, so she logged out.
She tried to connect with Lisa to catch a movie in the afternoon, but it was her mother-in-law's birthday and they had to drive to Gilroy. Her friend Sarah offered to bring her along while she shopped for wallpaper for the baby's nursery, but she begged off.
Rain showered and dressed and went to Whole Foods for some groceries. She found it challenging to plan meals for one person. She tossed a large bag of frozen prawns into the cart (Hayden hated the smell) and planned to have them twice in the same week. She bought Heirloom tomatoes for a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich on white bread, like Bebe's mom would make, and which Hayden would have frowned on. She threw in a container of pesto and whipping cream for pasta and a tub of Dreyer's Girl Scouts Thin Mint ice cream. Hayden was lactose intolerant. And because he bordered precariously on vegetarian, she bought bacon for BLTs, and a juicy, organically raised rib-eye steak with garlic butter.
She bagged up a big orange sweet potato and picked up miniature marshmallows to melt on top. She bought an aromatic plug-in scented with mango, which most certainly would have set off his allergies, and another one in vanilla for the bathroom. She found a bar of heavenly lavender soap. She even tossed in a catnip mouse for Noah. Last, she cruised the flower aisle for a small bouquet of yellow roses and baby's breath. Then she headed to the cashier, admiring all her purchases as a sort of rebellion.
The total rang up to a little more than she'd expected to pay, but she'd made her point and there was no going back. She'd never realized how much of herself she'd changed for Hayden.
The boys went to church on Sunday with Bebe and Neil since Scott was leaving that afternoon. They went out to lunch together afterward and let Scott choose the restaurant.
He chose Ruby's Roadhouse where he filled up on ribs, curly fries, and cornbread, and even ordered cheesecake for dessert, like it was his last meal. He asked whether they would be able to come to the swearingin ceremony the next morning, but they said it was a full day at the clinic and Neil had a surgery scheduled.
He spent the afternoon playing Rock Band with his brother, and all the while Bebe sensed that the time to say important things was slipping away. Thirteen weeks was a long time and a lot of change could happen. He wouldn't be the same Scott when he returned, and she was reluctant to give him up.
Scott made small talk with Dylan in the backseat on the way to the recruiting office that afternoon, and he seemed nervous when they finally arrived. He recorded an away message on his phone, telling callers that he'd be back in October. Then he shut it down and handed it over to Bebe along with his wallet.
He blew out a big breath of air. “I guess that's it.”
They got out and walked up to the storefront office where they
met the recruiter, who went over some brief instructions with Scott. Bebe could tell the recruiter was also sizing up Dylan and she didn't like it. Dylan wasn't the military type. The recruiter finally let them know it was time to go. He gave them some privacy, but she noticed that he kept his eye on them. He'd probably seen some pretty emotional farewells and she wondered if he would try to intervene if things began to escalate, or if they tried to talk Scotty out of it at the last minute.
They each hugged him. Bebe kept her voice as level as she could and looked him in the eye to make the most of their last few moments. “Listen,” she said quietly between them, struggling not to cry, “you remember who you are. You need to find good friends and stick with them. You need to ask God for help every single day. We'll be praying for you all the timeâevery day. We know you're going to be all right.” She pulled out a small Bible from her purse and gave it to him. “There's a letter inside for you to read on the plane.” He nodded, and she felt her face crumble as she kissed him good-bye. Neil and Dylan said their good-byes, and as they left for the car, she looked back at Scott for one last glimpse.
The evening was long and hollow, and it was impossible to think of anything other than himâwhether he was nervous or homesick or worried, or whether he'd already read the letter in the Bible she'd given him.
The next morning, Neil got to the clinic early. Soon after, he called Bebe to say that he'd found that his morning surgery had been rescheduled. He'd moved their appointments until later in the day so that they'd have time to go to surprise Scott at his swearing-in ceremony. Bebe felt elated. He swung by the house to pick her up, but Dylan couldn't get time off from work. Bebe felt a surge of gratefulness that she'd be able to see Scotty one more time before he left.
They checked in at MEPS, the Military Entrance Processing Station, and waited in the lobby with other parents whose young men and women were being sworn in for every branch of the service. They watched every face that appeared, hungry for some sign of him. The officers gave the recruits simple instructions that involved walking on
the line leading from one location to the next, and more than one young man found out that they meant this basic command literally, and had to sheepishly retrace his steps. Finally, Scotty's unit was called and their spirits rose as they saw him go past. They were soon ushered into a formal room with flags and plaques on the walls for every branch of service and a small stage. The parents lined up around the walls and waited. The doors opened and he entered with other young men in civilian clothes. They caught his eye and his face lit up briefly before resuming his stoic demeanor.
Bebe's heart swelled with conflicting emotions when he raised his hand and pledged to serve his country. The future was such an unknown. So many things in the world were tenuous. But at this point in time, he was safe and happy and so, so proud. She fought the tears that threatened to spill over, and saw that Neil was dabbing at his eyes, too. After the swearing in, they were able to hug Scott and tell him how proud they were, pushing aside their fears for the future, which she would not allow to ruin the moment. They were able to spend five minutes with him in the lobby seating area. Before they said their goodbyes, he told them that he'd already seen a lot of idiots who couldn't follow basic instructions and others who weren't as prepared physically as he was, and assured them that he would be all right. He seemed so much more confident and relaxed than he had the night before, and it put Bebe's heart at ease.
She missed Scotty all day, wondering where he was at that moment and whether he felt any regrets. He might be exhausted and even homesick and wonder what he'd gotten himself into, especially in the first week or so, but she knew he was as ready as a young man could possibly be for the rigors of boot campâeven the longest and most grueling boot camp of any branch of the military. It would feel like an eternity before they received a letter from him. He'd said that they got one phone call when they arrived, and Bebe and Neil kept their cell phones with them, fully charged, the whole day. She tried to keep the line free, inadvertently hurting her mother's feelings when she asked her to call the house phone instead, but she would not miss an opportunity
to talk to Scott.