Chapter 3 – Doing It Our Way

Chapter 3 – Doing It Our Way

Grace’s stomach was upset. Oh sure, she thought, boys will be boys. But a bruise under his eye, possibly a black eye? And, Matt knocked a tooth out of his best friend’s mouth and gave Tommy a bloody nose to boot. Now, Ellen is mad at me and I didn’t do anything. Her mind was so busy she didn’t realize she grated an entire ball of mozzarella cheese. She opened a counter drawer, and pulled out a box of sandwich zip baggies. She used a table knife to scoot three-fourths of the cheese into the baggie.
She stopped what she was doing, placed both hands palm down on the countertop and took a deep breath. Get a grip, she said to herself. He’s only a boy trying to be a man. Listen to him before you lose it.
Grace took another deep breath, opened a cabinet door and reached for the tortillas. She knew Matt’s favorite lunch was a bean and cheese burrito. She laid out of a tortilla, opened a can of retried beans and spread the retried beans on the tortilla. She hollered, “Matt, do you want tomato slices on your bean burrito?”
A moment later, “No thanks, Mom. Just bean and cheese and and salsa on the side.”
Why did I bother asking? She thought. She laughed to herself, I wanted to hear him and make sure he was okay. Grace sprinkled the mozzarella on the retried beans, rolled it up, put it on a plate and put it in the microwave. Before she set the timer, she made herself a salad, opened a can of sardines, took the sardines out of the can and put them on a plate. She made two place settings on table. Grace walked to the refrigerator and poured a glass of milk for Matt. She grabbed a can of sparkling water for herself.
“Lunch is ready, Matt. Make sure you wash your hands,” Grace called trying to sound cheerful, but she knew Matt would see right through it.
Matt walking into the eating area, his hands still dripping wet. He saw his mom look at him and he wiped his hands on his t-shirt.
“Matthew, how many times have I told you to use a towel and not your shirt?” Asked Grace.
Matt stopped, put his right hand to his chin, tilted his head toward the ceiling as if he were thinking, then put his hand down and said, “I think eleven. That’s it, eleven times, because the last time was ten.”
Grace looked at him, bruised face and dark spot growing under his eye, red bruised cheek, an impish grin, and sparkling blue eyes. God, he reminds so much of Mike she thought. She couldn’t get mad at him, no matter how much she wanted to. Grace shook her head, “I’m going to buy you a shirt made out of towel. How would you like that?”
“That’s great, Mom. Then I can put it on right after I shower and I won’t have to waste time wiping myself down,” said Matt pulling out a chair, sitting down and taking a sip of his milk.
Grace heard the microwave beep, she walked over to the microwave and retrieved the burrito. She stopped by the refrigerator and said, “What kind of salsa?”
“The usual, dad’s favorite.”
Grace’s heart plummeted to her stomach. She opened the refrigerator, and reached for the hot, Texas Diablo salsa. “It’ll burn your stomach out.” She said.
“No it won’t, Mom. Dad said its good for you. If it was good enough for dad, it’s good enough for me,” said Matt.
Grace wondered how Matt could be so cheerful when he talked about Mike, and when she thought of Mike she wanted to cry. She carried the salsa and burrito over to the table. She placed the plate in front of Matt and put the salsa next to the container of milk. They joined hands and Grace prayed, “Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounties through Christ our Lord, amen.”
Matt took hold of the salsa, opened the jar, and poured a generous portion on his plate. Grace rolled her eyes.
“You know you could have used a spoon for the salsa and it would have been much neater,” said Grace.
“I save time this way, Mom. Besides, I’d lick the spoon and put germs in the jar. You wouldn’t want that to happen would you?” Said Matt bitting into his burrito.
“No, definitely not. I wouldn’t want that to happen. Now, Matthew, what happened with Tommy? Don’t leave anything out. I want the whole truth,” said Grace.
Matt pointed to his mouth, it was full of burrito and salsa. Grace watched and waited. Matt took his time chewing.
“I can wait all day. Not another bite until you tell me everything.”
Matt swallowed his food, took a drink of milk, and said, “Mom, really, it was nothing. Stuff like this happens all the time.”
“When was the last time you came home with a black eye and bruised cheek?”
“It’s not really a black eye, yet. Besides, I think it looks kind of cool. Tommy started it. I didn’t have a choice.”
“What do you mean, Tommy started it. You have to do better, Matthew.”
Matt took a deep breath, “Here’s what happened. Tommy and Jimmy and Todd and me were playing basketball. Todd and me were on the same team. We were playing to twenty baskets. It was a tie game and I stole the ball from Tommy and drove past him and made a layup. We won.”
“He got mad because you won?” Asked Grace.
“No, he said I fouled him. I said I didn’t. He pushed me. I pushed him back. He said, ‘Admit you fouled me.’ I said I didn’t foul him, then he said, “You’re a liar like your old man. I bet he never earned his medals. He took a swing at me and hit me in the eye. I rushed into him and knocked him to the ground and hit him a few times until he screamed something about a tooth. I let him up and he ran into the house holding his mouth and nose. That’s the whole story. Nobody puts dad down to me, nobody. Can I eat now?”
Grace nodded. She wished she had something to say. She didn’t want to tell Matt he was wrong. She didn’t want him to be baited into fighting. Why did life have to be so damn hard, she thought?

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Chapter 2 – Doing It Our Way

Chapter 2

Grace stood on the front porch of her brick, ranch style home with her right hand across the top of her eyes blocking out the sun’s rays. She looked toward Ellen and Dan’s home. Matt was ten minutes late. Grace held her iPhone in her hand. Five more minutes, she thought. That’s all the time she’d give Matt. She had to give him some leeway, but still, she gave him a deadline.
Grace’s grip tightened on her iPhone. She typed in her passcode and went to her speed dial. She looked at Ellen’s number. She looked toward their house and smiled. She saw Matt turn out of Ellen’s driveway on his skateboard. He turned up the street toward home and waved.
Ellen waved back. She felt a huge sense of relief through her body. Will I ever stop worrying about him, she thought. No, she answered herself. She tracked Matt and his skateboard the same way an air traffic controller tracks air traffic in and out of a high volume airport.
Sixty seconds later, Matt coasted his skateboard into the driveway, kicked the backend of it, causing it to flip up. Matt caught it his hand. He carried his skateboard with his right hand, cut across the lawn, and climbed the steps.
“Hi, mom. Sorry, I’m late,” said Matt walking past Grace.
“Wait a minute, Matt. Don’t I get a hug or a kiss?” Said Grace.
“I have to run to the bathroom, Mom. I’ll see you in a couple of minutes,” said Matt, opening the door.
“Matthew Zinkowitz come back here, right now,” said Grace. She knew when Matt was telling the truth and when he was hiding something.
Matt called from the hallway, “Do I have to?”
“Yes,” said Grace adding a firmness to her tone.
Grace stood arms akimbo watching Matt walk toward her. Her heart started racing, “Matt, what happened to you? Come here, right now. Let me see your eye.”
Matt walked up to his mother, “Mom it’s nothing. Don’t make a big deal about it.”
“Who hit you? How did this happen?” Said Grace sounding like cop interrogating a suspect.
Matt looked down at his Nike’s, “It happened, that’s all. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m okay.”
Grace put her hands on Matt’s shoulders and began to slowly inspect Matt’s face, his shirt, his arms, and hands. “Turn your hands over, I want to see your knuckles.
Matt turned his hands over. “Your hands are bruised. You were in a fight. Who were you fighting with, Matthew.”
Matt didn’t like it when he heard Matthew. It meant only one thing to him and it wasn’t good. He said, “I don’t want to talk about it, Mom.”
“Oh, you are going to talk about it. I want to know who you were fighting with. Why you were fighting. And, why you broke my rule and didn’t walk away when trouble is starting?”
Matt kept staring at his Nike’s.
Grace’s iPhone rang. “Don’t you leave. You stay right here.” Grace reached into the back pocket on her jeans and looked at caller ID. It was Ellen.
“Hello, Ellen,” said Grace.
Grace listened. She nodded her head. Occasionally turned her head toward Matt and shook her head disapprovingly. She ended the conversation, “Thank you, Ellen. Matt and will talk about this tonight.”
Grace slipped her iPhone into her rear jean’s pocket and turned and faced Matt, “You fought with Tommy?”
“Mom, please let it go. It will all work out. Everything will be okay,” said Matt, kicking at a non existing rock on the floor.
“How can I forget about the bruise under your eye? How can Ellen forget about Tim getting a tooth knocked out of his mouth and his bloody nose? She’s rushing him to the dentist to try to save the tooth.”
Matt looked up and gave his mom a sheepish smile, “I caught him a couple of good ones.”
“Matthew! Matthew what have I told you about fighting?”
“I know, Mom. Can I get cleaned up. I promise to tell you the whole story at lunch. Okay?”
Grace shook her head, she thought, he’s not yet in his teens. What will I do then? Then she said, “Okay, get cleaned up. We’ll talk about it at lunch. No texting or talking to anyone between now and then, do I have your word?”
Matt shrugged, “Yes, Mom. What if someone texts or calls me?”
“Matthew!”
“I was only kidding, Mom. Thanks for waiting,” said Matt. He turned and headed toward his room.
Grace’s iPhone rang. She pulled it out of her rear jean’s pocket. She was relieved to see it wasn’t Ellen. It was her friend Jane.
“Hi, Jane,” said Grace.
“Ellen and Dan are not going? Are you going to cancel? It’s okay with me,” said Grace.
Grace bit on her lower lip as she listened, occasionally nodding. She said, “I know I promised. Okay, but this is the last time. I have your word. See you next Saturday.”

 

Chapter 1 – Doing It Our Way

Chapter 1

The two friends stood in line at Starbucks. Five people were in front of them, a couple in their thirties, a male college aged student, a male about 35 dressed in slacks and tie who looked like he was on his way to work. And, a woman about 25 with a young baby in a papoose. It was 9 a.m. on Saturday.
“Grace, there’s only one table left, do you mind getting my coffee, you know what I like, I’ll reimburse you. I’m going to grab the last table before anyone in front of us beats us to it,” said Jane Ferri.
“Good idea. I’ve got it, don’t worry about it. The usual, right?” Asked Grace Conti.
Jane smiled and gave Grace a soft pat on her shoulder. Jane quickly walked to a high table for two with stools in the far corner of Starbucks. She sat with her back to the wall, and looked up at the line. She saw the couple pay and take their drinks, turn and look at her. They were not happy. Well, too bad, Grace and I need to talk, she thought.
Grace made it to the front of the line, “Hi Tim.”
“Hi, Grace. The usual?” Said Tim, the Starbucks barista.
“The usual for me and a grande chai latte for my friend,” said Grace nodding toward Jane.
“Okay, that will be a grande skinny vanilla latte for you and a grande chi latte for your friend. How’s Matt doing?” Said Tim ringing in the order.
“He’s a nice kid. He’s doing okay. Thanks for asking,” said Grace. She smiled at Tim. He returned the smile. Grace took her receipt and walked over to await her order.
Five minutes later, Grace thanked the barista for the order, picked up the drinks, and walked to table Jane earlier grabbed. She placed the drinks on the table and climbed onto the stool. “I’m glad you got the table. This place is packed,” she said.
Jane pointed out the window, “It’s Saturday, there’s a big football game in town and the farmer’s market is going on up the street. It’s the perfect combination to fill Starbucks at 9. How’s everything going with you? We haven’t seen each other in three weeks. You don’t answer my texts. I was afraid I did something wrong.”
Grace held her drink with both hands, took a sip, set it down, and looked at Jane, “You’re my best friend. I’m sorry. I should have answered your texts. The last three weeks have been tough for me. I know you understand.”
Jane studied Grace’s face for a moment. Grace’s eyes were watering. Grace reached for a napkin and dabbed at the corner of her eyes, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to. I can’t help it, sometimes. It was three years on the 8th. It feels like yesterday. I can’t get past it. I’ll be okay in few days.”
Jane reached over and briefly touched Grace’s hand, “I’m sorry. I forgot. Has it been three years?”
Grace gave Jane a half-hearted smile, “Three years. Three long, long years. I still feel like I’m walking in a fog.”
“How’s Matt doing?” Asked Jane.
“I wish I were as strong as Matt. He’s only in 7th grade and he goes about his life like nothing happened. He’s involved in school. He has lots of good friends. He keeps a large photo of Mike on his wall. It’s one of Mike in Afghanistan. He doesn’t know I’m watching, but he touches the photo each time he walks in and out of his room. He wants to be just like Mike. He wants to play football, basketball and track. And, he wants to go to one of the military academies, just like Mike. Why? Because Mike did. I can’t help him with sports. I mean, I know what a football is. I know what a basketball is. I can watch a game on TV and know what’s going on, but I can’t tell him how to play. I was interested in gymnastics and ballet,” said Grace.
“Where’s Matt now?” Asked Jane.
“He’s at his friend Tommy’s house with some friends. Tommy is a year older than Matt and lives four houses down and the boys play basketball in Tommy’s backyard. I told him I’d be home at 11 and I wanted him home by 11:15. He’s really good at listening to me. I talked with Ellen, Tommy’s mother, she said she’d keep an eye on him. It’s not easy being mom and dad to boy who thinks he has to be the man of the house,” said Grace sipping her latte.
Jane took a deep breath, she sipped on her Chai tea, and set it down, “I know Ellen, she’s nice, her husband Dan he’s a bit weird, but okay if you don’t mind their ultra liberal politics.”
“I don’t pay too much attention to politics. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, we live in a free country. So, why should I care?” Said Grace.
“I guess so. Although, Ellen’s a lot nicer than Dan. When Dan starts talking politics he rants against the government. He hates the military. He sees a conspiracy around every corner,” said Jane.
“It keeps him busy,” said Grace managing a small laugh.
Jane said, “We’re good friends, right?”
Grace looked at Jane, “Yes? Usually, when you say, we’re good friends, you have something to tell me you think I don’t want to hear. Am I right?”
Jane nodded, “If I am out of line, say so and I’ll stop. Fair enough?”
“I know what you’re going to say. I don’t want to talk about it. How many times have we gone down this road? I think a dozen times and the answer is still going to be the same, no. Grace’s words held the chill of an Article blast in the middle of January.”
“I’m your friend, Grace, not your enemy. Please, Grace, listen to me. You’re thirty-four years old. I wish I had your looks and figure. You need to be dating. It’s been three years since Mike was killed in Afghanistan. You’ve got to let it go and get on with your life. Matt needs an adult male figure in his life. You need a man in your life. I don’t think you’ve dated once in the last three years, have you?” Asked Jane.
“If you don’t count the times you tried to set me up with dinner at your house, I haven’t dated. I don’t feel like dating. I had one love in my life, and that was Mike. I’ll never find another like him,” said Grace fighting back a wave of emotions.
Jane listened and saw the pain etched on Grace’s face like fine lines carved with an artist’s sculpting blade.
Jane said, “There is no other Mike. Maybe there may be someone different from Mike who’ll be a good husband and father in a different way. You’ll never know until you try. You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you. I saw Tim look at you when you were ordering our drinks. He likes you.”
“He’s five years younger than me, at least. I’m doing okay. Is the sermon over? Let’s talk about something else. Want to go to the farmer’s market with me?” said Grace trying to move the conversation in a different direction.
Jane absentmindedly ran her hand through her hair and reset her ponytail. “Grace, you haven’t worn makeup in three years. Not even a touch of lipstick. Nearly every time I see you, you’re wearing your workout clothes. I know you don’t spend all day at the gym. Do you wear them to work?”
“No,” said Grace curtly.
“What if I plan a barbecue next Saturday afternoon? I”ll invite Ellen and Dan and Tommy. I’ll invite a few other friends as well. It will be casual. I want you to bring Matt, he’ll have Tommy to play with. And, yes, there will be an eligible bachelor there. Please, try it one more time. I promise, if you come and nothing happens, I won’t bring it up again,” Jane said.
“You mean it? You won’t bring it up again? Promise?”
“Yes, Grace. I mean it,” said Jane.
“Okay, we’ll go. Matt and I will be there. But, I already know, I’m not interested.”