And hey, feel free to send me a check for $3,000 to make up for that GH grand prize money I missed out on. I'll be sure to give my hubby at least a 10% cut for helping me come up with the nifty title. :)
Savoring a rare moment of relative peace and quiet, Rose stood at her kitchen sink, lost in thought. There were some encouraging signs of spring out there, she noted; some of her perennials were beginning to shyly make an entrance. With any luck, the last Nor’easter of the season had blown through and the hopeful little sprouts wouldn’t wind up smothered by a fresh blanket of snow.
She needed to enjoy this respite while she could, because in about fifteen minutes she was going to have to wake Mikey up from an uncharacteristically late morning nap, to load him and Jack into their car seats and make the trip to Saint Pat’s to pick Tommy up from kindergarten. It went against the grain for Rose to rouse a sleeping child, but it couldn’t be helped. John was on a three-day trip and she was on her own.
Rose sipped some cold coffee from her “#1 Mom” mug, a Mother’s Day present from all her boys, which she’d misplaced hours ago and had just rediscovered resting on the windowsill in Peter and Matt’s room. She must have set it down there when she’d made one of her half-dozen trips upstairs with folded piles of laundry to put away.
What an idyllic spot in which to live, she mused. She gazed out at her expansive back yard, which stretched in gently undulating waves down to the
Bay. Several of the hills out there were just
steep enough for the boys to use for sledding during the winter. shore
Rose loved this house, and she knew that her older sons were thriving here. One of their favorite summer activities was to comb the beach at low tide, searching for sand dollars, starfish, sea glass, and seashells. Peter, her budding marine biologist, had a battered shoe box under his bed filled with his prized collection of dried-out pieces of crab exoskeletons. It reeked, but she didn’t have the heart to toss it.
John and Rose had originally become enchanted with the Seacoast area when John, who’d gone to college on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, had been a student at the
. Although they hadn’t planned to settle
permanently in University
of New Hampshire New Hampshire,
they’d been drawn back when John’s military commitment was over and he’d begun
his second career as a commercial airline pilot. They’d bought this house in Greenland
three years ago and were already so entrenched here that it was hard to imagine
ever moving. This place, not Upstate New
York, felt like their real home now. And
besides, it really wasn’t that far away from their families; it took
less than five hours to make the trip back for visits.
Rose did have occasional acute pangs of guilt that she didn’t live closer to her mom and dad, who weren’t elderly yet but would be one day. She wondered if she should dutifully move back home, so that Lucy wouldn’t have to shoulder the entire burden of caring for them later on. She and John could technically make that move, now that he was out of the military—airline pilots could live anywhere they wanted and commute to their bases; but their location here was ideal for John, because he could hop on I-95 and be at
in just under an hour. If they moved
back to their old hometown, his commute would be so much more inconvenient and
time-consuming, causing him to lose even more precious time at home with her
and the kids.
They were close enough, that’s what she kept telling herself. They were hardly on the other side of the moon. Plus, Rose had to admit, it was very possible that the 285-mile stretch of road that separated Lucy and herself was the necessary ingredient that kept the sisters’ relationship from disintegrating completely. For the most part, they got along a lot better over the phone than they did in person, although even some of those long-distance conversations had a tendency to become strained.
Lucy had called just yesterday afternoon to tell Rose that she’d gotten a considerable raise.
“This comes at a good time for us,” explained Lucy. “With Liam in first grade next year and Kathleen starting pre-K, we’ll have two Saint Mary’s tuitions. Plus, we’ll have to pay for the before-and after-school programs for both kids. All of that ends up being more expensive than when we had the two of them in daycare all day.”
“I’m happy for you, Luce. Congratulations.”
There was silence for a moment as Rose decided whether or not she should share her own spectacular news with her sister. She had been keeping it a secret—from everyone but John, of course—for over a month.
“Lucy, I’m pregnant!” she blurted excitedly.
There was no sound at the other end.
Rose wondered if they’d been cut off. “Lucy?”
“I’m here. I don’t know what to say.”
“You could say, ‘I’m happy for you, Rose.’”
“I’m just flabbergasted, that’s all. What are you and John trying to do, populate the planet single-handedly?”
“Lucy! We’re thrilled about this. Try to be happy for me.”
“I’m sorry, Rose. Congratulations,” she said in a conciliatory tone. “I suppose you’re trying for your girl.”
“We’re not ‘trying’ for anything. A girl would be nice, but to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t mind another little fella. They’re so much fun. There’s certainly never a dull moment around here.”
“How are you guys ever going to be able to afford a new car, though, if you keep popping out babies every year?” demanded Lucy.
Rose couldn’t conceive of daring to cross-examine her younger sister about intimate aspects of her life in a similar manner, and she thought it was pretty nervy of Lucy to do so. But as usual, she chose to bite her tongue rather than confront her sister and cause an unpleasant scene. Rose either had a huge “Kick Me” sign on her back, or the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and she was her peace-loving mother all over again. Fiddle-dee-dee.
Honestly, Rose couldn’t care less that John drove a ten-year-old Toyota four-door and that she ferried her children back and forth in a secondhand Ford minivan, or that the odometer on either one of these timeworn vehicles displayed a higher number than you would get if you took the mileages on Lucy and Henry’s two much newer, much shinier cars and added them together.
“Both of our cars are running well right now, knock on wood,” Rose answered wearily. “We’ll be fine, Lucy. We feel extremely blessed to have another baby on the way.”
“Well, sure, Rose. People like you can go and have six kids and stay home with them to boot. You can afford it; but realize that some of us need two incomes just to get by.”
“You don’t have to tell me how fortunate I am,” said Rose, feeling deflated. “I know that already.”
When the phone rang early the next morning and Rose saw by the caller I.D. that it was Lucy again, she was surprised and a bit apprehensive. Lucy almost never called twice in one week.
“Everything O.K.?” Rose asked.
“Is she sick?”
“She’s gone, Rose!” said Lucy, beginning to break down. “It happened last night. Dad found her on the bedroom floor when he woke up.”
Rose felt as if she’d been sucker-punched in the stomach. She almost couldn’t breathe.
“How?” Rose asked hoarsely. “She was only fifty-seven! When we saw her at Christmas, she seemed the picture of health. What happened?”
“They’re pretty sure it was a heart attack,” sobbed Lucy. “No one saw it coming—we had no warning! I mean, she started running a fever a few days ago, and she had an achy jaw last night. But we all thought she had a touch of the flu or something. Oh, Rose! Dad is a wreck. We need you here.”
“I should have been there!” cried Rose. She was consumed with self-reproach, and her eyes filled with tears. “I didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. I live five minutes down the road and I didn’t get to say good-bye either. It happened so suddenly.”
Off and on throughout the next exhausting, heart-wrenching week, there were surprising flashes of healing laughter; it worked like a salve on an open wound as the Flaherty family not only mourned, but also celebrated, the life of the singular woman who was the glue that had held them all together. More than once, the three siblings discussed the importance of picking up the baton that had been handed to them by their mother, vowing that they would work harder than ever to stay close to one another. They knew it was what she would have wanted more than anything.
“We’re going to come to
soon, Jimmy,” promised Rose.
“How about next Thanksgiving?”
“We should probably all try to be here with Dad for his first Thanksgiving without Mom,” said Lucy.
“Of course,” Rose agreed. “Hey, what about the Fourth of July at my house—Dad, you guys, and your families? The kids would love the ocean. And Lucy, you and I could hit the outlets.”
Lucy shot Rose a wobbly smile. “Only if you take me to the one that sells those fabulous chocolate truffles,” she said.