Second Chances – Part I
Mike, her fourteen-year-old, rolled his eyes and mumbled something, but he did put the cereal box back in the pantry.
“Honey, don’t get bent out of shape. It’s only brunch with your friends. Why are you so worried?” Luke soothed, his expressive, blue eyes filled with concern for her. It always bothered Luke if she got upset.
“My mother did not raise me to entertain people in a pig pen,” Maryanne answered, her voice as frosty as the crisp, December morning. “I didn’t want to have the darn thing at all, but it’s my turn, and I couldn’t get out of it.”
“I don’t get it,” ten-year-old Amber said as she shoveled Cheerios into her mouth. “I thought you liked having brunch with your friends. You’ve been doing it for the past year. If you don’t enjoy it why don’t you drop out?”
Maryanne stifled a sigh. Nobody understood, and she wished they’d all go to work and school and leave her alone. “Just hurry and eat, Amber. You don’t want to be late for the bus.”
Mike’s head jerked up. “Why can’t you drop us off like you usually do? I hate riding the bus.”
“Me too,” Amber predictably joined in.
“Well, you’ll ride it this morning whether you like it or not. I have to clean up the kitchen and get ready for the brunch.”
Mike looked ready to argue, but Luke shook his head, a gesture so small that it almost went unnoticed. Almost. Mike subsided, and the kids hurriedly finished their breakfast and got ready to catch the bus. Maryanne sighed. They always minded their father.
Luke stepped up behind her at the sink where she had started the breakfast dishes. He slipped his arms around her and buried his face against her neck. “You always smell so good,” he whispered. His hand reached around her to cup her breast, but Maryanne shrugged him away. “I’m too busy for that!” she hissed, “and the children might see.”
Luke stepped away from her. “I’ll see you tonight.”
He left for work as the kids caught the bus, and a blessed silence fell on the house. Maryanne quickly finished the dishes, but she didn’t have a clean cloth to dry them with so she ran to the linen closet to find one. The heating pad that Mike had used for the sick puppy fell off the top shelf and pulled a stack of washcloths with it. Why couldn’t those kids learn to put things where they belonged?
Her mouth turned down in a little grimace which marred her pretty face and darkened her clear brown eyes. If they had a bigger linen closet maybe they wouldn’t have this problem. You can only stuff so much on a shelf before things start to fall out.
She hurried back down the hall to the kitchen. If she had a dishwasher it would make her mornings so much easier, but years ago she and Luke had made the decision for her to be a stay-at-home mom, and they simply didn’t have the money to replace their broken dishwasher.
She dried the dishes and put them in the cabinet. She needed to start on her breakfast casserole, but wait a minute. Luke and the kids had used the bathroom this morning! They probably left it in a mess. They knew she had company coming, but did they care? No, they didn’t.
Just as she had expected, the bathroom looked awful, and she had cleaned it last night! Luke had left whiskers in the sink, and someone had left a wet washcloth lying in the bathtub. Amber’s hair bows lay on the side of the sink, and she saw Mike’s dirty underwear on the floor between the toilet and the bathtub.
Efficiently, she dealt with the mess. When she and Luke bought this house right after their marriage it had had plenty of space for the two of them, and having one bathroom hadn’t seemed like a problem, but now”¦ Now she’d give almost anything for a second bathroom or even a powder room. She had brought it up with Luke, but naturally they couldn’t afford to add another bath.
Actually, they needed a bigger house, but housing prices had gone through the roof when the area around Green Forest got discovered by wealthy people who loved to ski. They’d bought up lots of land and built magnificent homes that they rarely used.
There were a few exceptions. She had met Kelly Duncan a year ago when she took Amber to story time at the library. Kelly had a little girl Amber’s age, and when the girls struck up a conversation so did she and Kelly.
Truthfully, she had felt flattered to be chosen for a conversation with one of the new people. Kelly’s clothes looked like something out of a fashion magazine, and even though she lived in one of the big new houses around the lake, she had seemed to enjoy their conversation and had even suggested that they should get together for lunch one day. She had eventually introduced Kelly to some of her old friends, and most of them liked her.
Having brunch once a month had been Kelly’s idea. She had the first one at her house, and Maryanne had met several more rich, beautiful women. They all reminded her of Kelly, nicely dressed with flawless makeup and amusing stories of life outside Green Forest. She had enjoyed the new people, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to her that eventually they’d all come to her house and see how she lived.
She wondered if her old friends, the ones she’d grown up with, worried about the same thing, but she thought not. Marsha, her best friend since first grade, had the brunch last month, and she seemed as relaxed as anything. Of course Marsha’s husband made big money working for an insurance company. Marsha’s house looked very nice, and she had two bathrooms and a powder room.
She’d better hurry. She didn’t have time to worry right now, not with a whole houseful of people coming in a couple of hours. Hurriedly she put her breakfast casserole together and set her cake on the cabinet. She had originally intended to bake a Hummingbird Cake, but the recipe called for a lot of fruit and nuts. She priced the ingredients at the grocery store, but frankly the expense would have strained their budget so she had decided to bake a pound cake. Luke loved the cake, but it sure wasn’t fancy. She was proud of her homemade chicken salad, though. Surely they’d like that!
By ten she had completed her preparations. Oh, she did so want things to go well. The doorbell rang, and the guests started to arrive, chatting, laughing, and talking about Christmas. Kelly was the last one to get there, and she brought a surprise with her.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she apologized to Mary Anne, “but my friend, Lynne, arrived from New York last night, and since I hated to miss the brunch I brought her with me.”
“Oh, I’m glad you did.” Maryanne turned to Kelly’s friend and introduced herself, and then she introduced Lynne to the group.
Before they ate Maryanne asked Marsha to say a blessing on the food. Maryanne peeked, and she saw an amused little grin on Lynne’s face. She also saw Lynne staring at the paper plates. Marsha and some of the others had china to use, but Maryanne didn’t.
She had considered buying a cheap set at the discount store, but Luke had looked at her so strangely that she had given up on that idea. The next afternoon he had brought the paper plates home. Admittedly, she liked them. The plates featured a delicate, Christmas red reindeer who gracefully made his way across a snowy expanse. They were beautiful, but they were still paper. So were the matching napkins and cups.
Nobody else seemed to mind the paper plates. They served themselves and sat down in the dining room to eat. Not everyone could sit at the big table so Maryanne had borrowed a card table from Marsha. She ended up sitting at the card table with Marsha, Kelly, and Lynne, who totally dominated the conversation.
“I’ve already picked out my Christmas present,” she said.
“You picked it out yourself?” Marsha asked.
“Yes, that way I get what I want.”
“What did you want?”
“I saw a pair of diamond earrings that I loved so I bought them and put my husband’s name on the card.”
“Won’t he mind?” Maryanne asked.
“No. Stuart’ll be glad that he doesn’t have to bother with it.”
“What does your husband do?”
“He’s an investment banker.”
“Maryanne’s husband is in banking too,” Marsha said.
Kelly favored Maryanne with an interested look. “What bank is he with?”
“He’s the manager of the local bank,” Maryanne answered, well aware of the difference between Luke and this Stuart.
They found out that Lynne lived in a penthouse in New York City, she worked with several charities, and she loved parties. “The house in Green Forest is mainly for entertaining,” she explained. “It’s nice to have our own place when we want to ski, and this way we can bring some friends with us. The house is so pretty that I plan to mention it to Shelly Wingo; she’s the editor of Romantic Adventures. I think she’ll feature the house in the magazine.”
Maryanne could only imagine living in a house featured in a magazine.
Lynne also shared her menu for her Christmas Eve luncheon. “For appetizers I’m serving martinis or champagne, roasted fingerling potatoes with crÃ¨me fraiche, and caviar.
“Then we’ll have smoked trout with apple and horseradish on crisp brown bread pancetta and herb-roasted pork with fig jam. I think a Zinfandel or Bordeaux would go nicely with this.
“Side dishes are roasted beets with clementines, mint turnip puree with walnuts and anchovies, parsley mashed sweet potatoes, and bananas with pecan streusel. For dessert, Christmas croissant pudding with sour cream and brown sugar sauce and pine nut cookies.”
Not much like chicken salad croissants, breakfast casserole, and pound cake.
Her guests stayed until around twelve when they all started saying goodbye. Maryanne noticed that Kelly had worn her boots today. Maryanne loved those boots the first time she saw them. They looked soft and supple as if wearing them would caress your leg and make you feel so sensuous. They also had spike heels which did wonderful things for Kelly’s legs.
She had wanted a pair of those boots so much she could almost taste it! She had talked about them so often that Luke had given her twenty five dollars and told her to go and buy herself a pair. Maryanne had asked Kelly the brand name of the boots, and she had looked them up on the family computer. $675! She had gone the next day to the discount store and found a pair of cheap knock offs.
Luke liked them very much. He had whistled at her and given her fanny a pat when she first wore them. “Wait until the kids go to sleep,” he had whispered. “I’ll be glad to show you how much I like those boots.”
Mary Anne thought that if he had seen Kelly’s boots he wouldn’t have admired her cheap fakes so much.
Her guests finally left, and she cleaned up the kitchen. Truthfully, they had eaten almost everything. She had managed to hide four thin slices of cake to serve at dinner tonight, but that was about it. If nothing else, at least they liked her food.
Copyright Elaine Cantrell