Hearing the phone ringing over the din of the new video game Guitar Hero, Sammie was amazed that she could actually locate the handset. It usually resided in the most inopportune spots, commonly on top of the dryer in the basement. Grateful that running to the basement was not required at the moment, she located the television remote before she picked up the phone.
“Hello? House of Mania,” Sammie answered once the game volume was lowered, to great protests from the two young men in the living room.
“Sammie, it’s Victoria. What are you doing later?”
“Vic, get off the speaker–I can barely hear you. Besides, you know what I’ll be doing later.”
“Sammie, let’s meet for lunch instead. Let me take you shopping. You need some time for you.” Sammie could hear the concern in Victoria’s request.
Silently debating on the other end of the phone, she acquiesced. “Okay, listen. I’ll meet you for coffee at two. How’s that? You don’t have to take me shopping. It’s not my birthday. I promise you can take me shopping then. Just coffee today.” She smiled into the phone, knowing that her friend would try to talk her into it later anyhow.
“Sure, Sammie. Meet you at Daily Treat, two on the nose. Bye!” Victoria was off the phone before she could reciprocate the goodbye. Sammie laughed, putting her handset back on the charger base as she called to her boys to start their school work. Let the daily grind begin.
After the boys were dropped at the homeschool co-op, Sammie headed across town. With a take out coffee in hand she made her way to the cemetery. It was located in a beautiful spot in town, with rolling hills, plenty of trees. Families of the loved ones interred there had made small areas warm and welcoming so one could visit comfortably. Many graves were decorated with personal touches such as wind chimes and small mementos. At least it was peaceful to be there. As Sammie pulled over to the side of the gravel road through the park near her husband’s grave, she sighed. It was becoming futile to hold back her tears.
Sammie walked through the crisp leaves to Jackie’s grave and sat on the cool ground, cross legged, sipping her coffee. Things were becoming so hard. The boys were almost graduated and off to school, her daughters all busy with their own lives. She thought about the last three wonderful years she had with Jackie after he had come to the Lord. Pictures from the past, the good as well as the horrid, flowed through her mind, swiftly as water in a rushing stream. A soft smile appeared, recalling how he was Jackie only to her as she brushed her hand along his name carved in the stone.
John Michael Young the stone read. Radically Changed by the Power of Christ. Sammie’s fingers traced the words, words Jackie had spoken often to four of his five children those last years. She had never wanted them to forget the most important lesson of Jackie’s life. The boys had just entered their teen years, two of her three daughters out of them at the time. The Lord had abundantly blessed the time he spent with them in the end.
Sammie’s reverie was interrupted by her cell phone ringing into the quiet fall air. Sunnie Day flashed on the ID screen. Sammie sighed, glancing around her before answering the phone. She was not up for the inevitable battle.
“Hi, Sunnie Day.” Sammie could almost hear her daughter’s eyes rolling over her mother using the nickname she had called her since babyhood.
At her gleaming desk in her corner office, Sunnie’s eyes did roll. Here she was working for a top flight company with an office of her own, making more than her wayward father ever had, yet her mother still used a childish nickname. With her head in her hand, Sunnie replied, “Yeah, hi Ma. I assume you’re sitting in the graveyard, aren’t you?” Sunnie awaited confirmation of her mother’s location, tapping a pen on her desk.
“Yes, Sunnie, I am. How are you today?” Sammie put a hand over her eyes, waiting to hear the usual protests from her eldest child. She wasn’t disappointed. Sunnie immediately started her adamant assertions.
“Ma, get up and get out of there, please. It’s a beautiful day and you should be spending it doing something for you. The man didn’t do much for you. I don’t know why you insist on sitting there.” Sunnie tossed her dark hair, the ferocious curls bouncing with the movement. Her father had given her nothing but bad memories, along with his dark good looks and personality. Sammie’s eyes welled with tears of frustration at the venom in her daughter’s voice. She prayed for the day that would change as it had for Jackie.
“Sunnie, we disagree on this. I wish you would let go of all that anger. Why don’t you come down? Come with me and Vic to the women’s conference this weekend?” Sammie was always hopeful that her daughter would come around and come out to church. So long as she was alive, she would never give up on that hope.
“Yeah, sure, Ma. Because I want to sit in a church with a bunch of blubbering old ladies with blue hair, listening to how ‘mah lie-fah will be better with Jay-zus.!’ ” Sunnie’s poor imitation of a fiery Southern preacher did not amuse her mother.
“I’ve heard it Ma, from you. It didn’t help Dad too much. All it helped him do was abuse you. He was a bastard my whole life. I don’t believe for a minute that he…”
Sunnie abruptly cut off, realizing that she was getting angry and taking it out on her mother as usual. She took a deep breath and continued. “Well, I really didn’t call to argue, Ma. I just wanted to make sure you were doing something for yourself today.”
It took Sammie a few seconds to control her own emotions. As always, it saddened her to hear Sunnie’s view on her father. She had been away at school for the last three years of Jackie’s life, never giving him the opportunity to get to know her, to ask her to forgive him, severing every opportunity to get to know him again as the man God called him to be. The enmity Sunnie felt ran so deeply she hadn’t deemed it necessary to leave school for the funeral. There was much hurt and hard feelings buried in her.
Too much silence had passed. “Ma, are you there? Ma, look, I’m sorry…” Sunnie was frustrated with herself for allowing the emotions to overtake her. Although she tried hard to keep those feelings from directing her life, they did dictate much of what she said and how she behaved. Sunnie resorted to unconsciously shredding an office memo as she waited on her mother’s response.
“I’m here. You know you are always welcome to come if you change your mind. You should come down anyhow, little Jacquie is getting so big…she misses her favorite aunt.” Sammie’s voice softened at the mention of her grand baby.
To her great relief, she heard Sunnie snicker. “I’ll bet she is. Maybe next weekend. I’ll have to see what my work schedule is. Now, what else are you dong today?” Putting the emphasis on the else, Sunnie understood arguing her mother’s determination to stay at the cemetery would not be successful.
“Actually, I really should get up and get going. I’m meeting Vic in town for coffee. I’ll probably run late, as usual. Let me know about next weekend, Sunnie Day, please? I’d love to see you. I miss you, you know.” More tears threatened to fall. Sammie’s love for her children, even her most wayward, ruled her very being.
“Even though I’ve been on my own for six years now?” Sunnie bantered back, enjoying being completely enveloped in that love. No matter the circumstance, Sunnie knew she could always turn to Sammie. She snickered at Sammie’s answer.
“You’re still my baby. Love you, Sunnie Day.” Sammie had gotten up, looking around at the other visitors.
“Love you too, Ma. Now go have fun with Vic…tell her I said hello.” Sunnie hung up before Sammie could say more. Her own emotions were threatening to break the hard surface she worked hard to maintain.
Sammie smiled as she clicked her phone shut, trusting the Lord that He would break through that same tough shell. She wiped the grass and leaves from her sweater and slacks, then got in the car to drive back to town for her date with Victoria and a cup of coffee.
* ~ *
In her corner office two hours away from her mother, Sunnie stared out the window at the bustling city below. Sunshine Ellen Young was everything her mother wasn’t; tall, dark haired, almost painfully slender. The mirror reflected the image of the man she despised. She picked up her cigarettes and lighter, then pushed herself out of the plush leather chair. Walking around her desk and out of the office, she barked an order over her shoulder to the secretary at the reception desk, “I’ll be back in ten, take messages.”
Sunnie walked out onto the smoking deck the real estate corporation had fashioned from the beautiful patio that overlooked the city. Sunnie loved the bustling city; the noise, the size, the energy. So opposite small sleepy Lakeville. An added bonus, it was far enough away that she didn’t have to relive things. Unless it was a day like today. An anniversary. As Sunnie snuffed out her slim cigarette she sighed, feeling very empty.
* ~ *
Rob Revell had just finished a business lunch in the Daily Treat. It was the place to enjoy a casual meal any time of the day in Lakeville. Located on the small town’s main drag, The Daily Treat had been a staple eatery for years, passing ownership through family for four generations. The classic American diner style and hearty food kept it a popular and lucrative business. The gleaming black formica counter, the booths with tuck and roll upholstery, and friendly service kept people coming from the surrounding towns.
Rob was paying by the counter, exchanging pleasantries with the cashier when Victoria blew in the front doors. He smiled and nodded, amused by her entrance. Only Victoria could make an entrance into a small town diner like she was royalty. She was, in fact, Lakeville royalty. After a fashion.
Victoria smiled when she saw Rob, immediately heading to him for a hug. Enveloping him in her flowing poncho, she included a loud kiss on the cheek which left her plum lipstick behind. “How are you? I have not seen you in–well, forever! Been busy working? You must come by this Saturday! George will be all alone, I have a conference to attend all weekend.” Victoria was somewhat akin to a small but powerful tornado. Rob smiled with a quiet laugh.
“It’s very nice to see you too, Mrs Reiger. Yes, business has picked up again, thanks be to God! Please do let George know I will come by and rescue him from his lonely existence on Saturday. I’m free for the day. So tell me, who did you line up to speak this weekend?” Rob attended the same large church in town that George and Victoria did. He knew she was very involved in all the women’s outreach ministries. Rob was certain she had arranged the speakers who were coming.
“Oh, just one. A gal from Texas, with a hoot of a testimony. Too bad it’s ladies’ only, or I’d invite you. I will certainly tell George–he’ll love to have some time to chat. Steven is away at school and he’ll be rattling around trying to rearrange furniture. So, stop him!” She winked at Rob.
“It’s a promise. What are you doing here today?”
“Meeting a friend. Who is late, as always. Anyhow, do give George a call, he’s home right now–oh, finally!” Victoria had turned to look for the waitstaff, spotting Sammie coming through the door looking wind-blown. Sammie nodded to Victoria and the handsome man she was chatting with. With a small sigh, she started over to make her apologies for being late. She tried to smooth her straight hair, which was still in her eyes. That action caused more static than smoothness. She gave up quickly with a small grin.
“Hey, Vic, I’m sorry! I was just leaving when Sunnie called. You know how she can be…” Sammie’s explanation was stopped by Victoria’s waving hand.
“I do understand, no worries. Do you know Rob? He goes to my church, and he’s a good friend of George’s. Rob, my dear friend Samantha Young, Sammie to her friends. Now, let me get us a table…” Victoria was off, designer boot heels clacking loudly on the marble floor, to take hold of a waitress. That left Sammie looking into Rob’s face, slightly embarrassed.
Rob was amused by Victoria’s brief introduction, and he turned kind eyes to Sammie. “Nice to meet you, Mrs Young.” His light brown hair, grayed about the temples, softened the features of his well tanned-face as did his smile. His dress was business casual, khakis and a light seasonal sweater, with suede Bass Nubucks. Sammie smiled back.
“Thank you, Rob. Nice to meet you too.” Lowering her voice, she asked conspiratorially, “Was I very late?”
Rob chuckled lightly. “I don’t think so. I was only chatting with Victoria for a few minutes. I’m sure you’re good.”
Sammie laughed, relieved. “You know how she likes to be punctual. Not one of my strong points,” Sammie admitted with a tad of color highlighting her cheeks.
Victoria had made her way back by then, announcing that their table was ready. Sammie smiled once more at Rob. “Again, nice to meet you, Rob.”
He nodded and returned the smile. “And you too, Mrs Young. Have a nice lunch, ladies. I’ll see you over the weekend, Vi.” He casually threw his leather jacket over one shoulder and pulled his sunglasses down off his head. He waved goodbye and was out the door. The women walked through the restaurant to their table. Coffee was awaiting their arrival, steam wafting from the cups. Sammie spied Rob entering a massive truck just outside the window they were sitting closest to.
“Vic, you amaze me. I can’t even get coffee this quick at Starbucks. Thanks. What else is coming?” Sammie well knew Victoria’s tactics. More than likely, a three course lunch was being prepared for them.
“Just an appetizer tray–I haven’t eaten a bite since breakfast! So, what did Miss Sunshine Daydream have to say?”
“Well, she actually told me to tell YOU that she said hello, but if she ever heard you calling her that…” They laughed together, both knowing how much Sunnie despised her given name. “It was my tribute to the sixties, Vic, what can I say? Autumn and Storm never complain. In any case, I wish she could be sunny. She’s so bitter. It kills me to hear her talk about Jackie the way she does.” Sammie dabbed her eyes with a spare napkin while Victoria sipped her coffee.
“Sammie, she’s hurting. Deeply. I’m sure she doesn’t even realize it. It may take her a very long time to be able to forgive John for all his wayward ways while she was growing up. She never got to know him after she moved away, never saw how drastically he’d changed. She needs to forgive herself for that, also.” Victoria patted her friend’s hand, assorted jewelry jingling with the gesture. “And how are you doing today? I wish you’d come to the mall with me this afternoon. I saw a perfect outfit–it just screams your name.”
Sammie waved her while sipping her coffee. “Oh, stop! I told you, you can lavish a gift on me once a year. It’s not that time yet. I have plenty of outfits. Honestly, the mall would undo me today. Too loud, too busy. Just too.”
The waitress arrived sporting a large tray in her hand. An enormous platter and two smaller plates, along with flatware and water glasses were balanced expertly on it. She placed the water glasses on the table, pulling out two straws that were poking from a pocket of her maroon apron. Their conversation paused as she arranged their order to her satisfaction before leaving them to lunch.
“Vic! What in the world is this? I thought you said appetizer?” Sammie’s eyes widened at the choices.
“It’s a sampler plate of all their appetizers. Now, enjoy. They do have the best mozzarella sticks around!” Victoria cheerfully toasted Sammie with the one she had picked up before she dipped it in the bowl of marinara.
“You are outrageous. Thanks, I am a bit hungry. So, who’s this Rob?” Sammie was always amazed at the scope of people Victoria knew. She knew the wealthiest doctors as well as the names of the two homeless people in town, and almost everyone in between. Anyone who had lived in Lakeville for any amount of time knew Victoria MacDougall Reiger, daughter of former mayor Earnhardt MacDougall. Sammie considered it highly unusual if Victoria DIDN’T know someone.
“Oh, Rob! Rob Revell, he’s a pistol! He’s a friend of George’s from college, landscaper. He owned the nursery and florist up on Elm Street, remember? It burned down right around the time of John’s funeral. In fact, I think he did several of the arrangements that arrived at the church. Thankfully, he consulted George for years on his insurance policy, and he was well covered. Now he does landscape design for kicks. Never married. He’s known George forever. I think he may have warned George not to marry me.” Victoria’s lips pursed a moment as she considered that tidbit, then smiled.
“Now, why in the world would anyone do that, Vic? Could it have been your tendency to tell people exactly what you think?” Sammie winked at her dear friend.
Victoria laughed while chewing her shrimp wrapped in bacon. “Maybe. Men are afraid of strong minded women you know, my father always said that.” Victoria revered her late father.
“Well, there’s strong minded, and then there’s obnoxious.” Sammie remarked innocently. She snorted into her coffee at the look on Victoria’s face. “Oh, stop. You know I’m kidding and you are my very best friend. No one would have been able to talk George out of marrying you.” Victoria had been divorced when she met George at a rally for one of her father’s political supporters. The old adage about opposites attracting seemed penned exclusively for them. They fell madly in love and married quickly. Almost fifteen years later, neither regretted a moment of their lives together.
“No, no one would have or could have.” Victoria sighed, smiling happily as a newlywed. “He’s a jewel. So, are you ready for the weekend? Are the boys still coming by?” Victoria and George doted on them as often as Sammie allowed.
“They would not miss a chance to watch college football with George! They’ve been working hard to get all their schoolwork done so they don’t have to bring homework with them. Can I make something for them? I know George loves that chili dip we make.” Sammie laughed at the look of completely false dismay on Victoria’s face. There was nothing wholesome about Sammie’s infamous chili dip.
“Oh, sure, make that. It’s something I would never make him.” She winked at Sammie. Victoria would spend all day making a pot of chili instead of buying three generic cans to make the dip.
“Okay, you buy the chips, then. I’ll make the dip. Loaded with chemicals, just like we all like it.” Sammie conceded to her friend, knowing she’d get an enormous array of colored chips. Victoria smiled and nodded, savoring the last cheese puff on the plate.
Refusing coffee refills, they chatted until it was time for Sammie to pick the boys up. Victoria picked up the check the waitress left, shooing Sammie out the door with a loud kiss that left the trademark plum lipstick. She promised to see Sammie Saturday morning, bright and early.