Chapter 10 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 10 ~ He Has To Be Comfortable In Jeans

Grace used her fork as it were an artist’s tool, moving the pieces to her spinach salad around hoping to find the perfect configuration. She moved a walnut next to pecan, then placed a small piece of avocado on top of them.
Jane looked at her, “I thought you loved spinach salad. You haven’t touched your wine. You need to eat something. What’s bothering you?”
Grace looked up at Jane. She gave her a half-hearted smile, shrugged her shoulders, “I guess I’m not hungry. Nothing is bothering me.”
“For eleven ninety-five for a lunch salad I hope you’ll eat it. Come on girl, let’s talk about it. I know you and I know when something is bothering you.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Grace staring at her salad.
“I already know what’s bothering you. James called me. He wanted to know if you’re stable.”
Grace looked up and smiled, “Did he? Tell him no. Tell him I’m dangerous and I’m a work release program from the women’s prison.”
They both laughed. Grace picked up her glass of wine and clinked glasses with Jane.
“Did he tell you the difference between a curve ball and fast ball?” asked Grace.
Jane bent closer to Grace and said softly, “He asked me what you were talking about? He had no clue. Did you pull that question out of thin air?”
“No, Matt gave it to me. James is such a jerk. He’s only interested in his own brilliance. He’d sell his soul for a few bucks and I think he already sold it to Paxton. You know what the worse part of the experience, don’t guess, I’ll tell you. He dared to call me a cheap date when it wasn’t even a date.”
“Eleven ninety-five plus wine isn’t cheap. But, it’s not a date,” laughed Jane.
Grace smiled, “I’m okay now. I’m starving. Thank you for the salad. I fell for him at the barbecue. I actually did. He charmed me. I am so grateful I woke up before it went any further, if you know what I mean.”
“You’ve been out of the game, girl. Alice told me about him at the gym and I gave him a call. I didn’t vet him myself. Will you give me one more chance?”
“No way. We made a deal. No more setups. No more blind dates. You remember our agreement, don’t you?”
“Why sure I do, girlfriend. You know I never back out of an agreement, right?” asked Jane.
Grace shook her head and put a fork full of spinach salad into her mouth. She chewed it and looked at Jane. Jane picked up her glass of wine, took a sip and set it down.
Grace swallowed her food, then said, “Spill it. You can’t hold it in. We’ve been friends too long for you to try to hide something on me. You will not rest until you think I’ve found the right man.”
“Now that you ask,” said Jane.
“Slow down. Before you say another word, I am going to give you my guidelines for any guy. If he doesn’t meet these criteria take your black magic marker and drawn a thick line through his name.”
“This ought to be good,” said Jane. She reached for a piece of hard crusty bread and drew it through the olive oil and spices before taking a bite.
Grace scooped up a walnut and pecan along with a dried cherry and chewed on it. Her deep brown eyes gave off an impish sparkle.
“I know that look, Grace. Oh, I know it. You’re going to make it impossible for me to find the right match. Well, girl, you’re on, spill it,” said Jane with a chuckle.
“Here is my criteria for Jane’s match service dot com. I am five feet six inches tall. He’s got to be at least 5 feet ten inches tall.”
“Easily done,” said Jane.
“He has to be physically fit. I don’t mean a runner type. Let’s put some muscle on this dude’s body. I don’t want a pretty boy.”
“Not a problem,” said Jane.
“He has to be comfortable in worn jeans and scruffy shoes. And, doesn’t mind getting barbecue sauce on his fingers.”
“Making it tougher for me. There goes James,” laughed Jane.
“He likes to watch football and can talk sports and politics,” said Grace.
“We live in Texas, that covers about eighty percent of the male population,” said Jane.
“I’ve got more. He’s into protecting the environment. He takes pollution and global warming seriously,” said Grace.
“That knocks out eighty percent of the eighty percent of males in Texas,” said Jane with a laugh. “Anything else?” she added.
“Oh, just one little thing. This one is the deal breaker. If this doesn’t work, all of the above don’t matter,” said Grace.
“I can’t wait to hear it. Let me see. He’s a millionaire. He has a big ranch and a ski lodge in the mountains. I know, he’s been looking for the right woman all his life,” said Jane.
“No, you’re not even close,” said Grace.
“Well, what is it?” said Jane.
“Matt has to give me two thumbs up or it won’t happen,” said Grace.
Jane stared at her. Then she said, “I’ve got to figure out what Matt wants and then find this guy and make sure he fits into what you want, that it?”
“You got it. Good luck,” laughed Grace.

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Chapter 9 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 9 ~ This Is Not A Date

Grace turned onto Grove Street and drove slowly. She spotted the large green Starbucks logo two blocks ahead. She was still fighting a raging internal battle that started the moment she pulled out of her driveway. Initially, she didn’t like James. She thought he was pompous, narcissistic, and vain. Yet, as the afternoon wore on, he grew on her. They talked about the symphony. His favorite was Mahler, her’s was Mozart. They talked about singers, she liked Diana Krall, he like Nora Jones. He like Italian food, so did she. He had a season pass to the botanical gardens and so did she.
Grace and James exchanged phone numbers but made no commitment to see each other. She wanted to see him, but she knew Matt did not like him. She knew Matt and he was like his dad, Mike, once his mind was made up, no amount of the facts or reasoning was going to change it. If Matt knew she was meeting James this morning, he would have gone into a sulk that might stop for a week. She tried to remember the questions Matt wanted to ask him, something about the Cowboys and what was the other? She remembered, the difference between a curve ball and fast ball. Why was she meeting James if Matt would never like him? Why was she letting Matt decide who she should see? Her brain felt like she was watching a tennis match between two evenly matched players that would never end.
Grace glanced at the time on the car’s dash, it was 6:55. James said he’d be there at 7. She didn’t want to be early. If she was, it would make her seem too eager. Then the thought crossed her min, what if he asks me to go out for a date? What do I tell him? What do I tell Matt. Maybe I should have him over for dinner so Matt can get to know him. That’s it. That’s what I’ll do if he asks me for a date. I’ll turn it around on him.
Grace drove around the block, the traffic was light, and she made all the lights. It was 6:59, still too early to make an entrance. She started around the block a second time and stopped at a parking place on a side street and pulled over. She pulled the visor down and looked at herself in the visor’s mirror. A quick panic hit her. She didn’t wear makeup, not even a hint of lipstick. I look like I’m singing in a church choir. She studied her face and spotted a line near the corner of her right eye. I am getting so old, she thought. The text tone chimed on her cell phone. She pick it up, it was from Matt. Hi Mom, Jimmy’s mom is here. I’m leaving. Have a great day at work. Love Matt.
Grace text back, TYVM – Enjoy camp. Tell me all about it tonight. Love, Mom.
Feelings of guilt rose within her. She took a deep breath and tried to tell herself she was not doing anything wrong, I’m only meeting some to talk and have coffee. It’s not like I’m going home with him. Why do I feel guilty? Will I ever be okay? Oh, dear God, what’s wrong with me?
Grace checked the sideview mirror and pulled into traffic, two more right turns and she was at Starbucks, she pulled into the crowded parking lot. No parking places, it’s a sign from God, I’m not supposed to be here, she said to herself. She no sooner finished the thought when the rear backup lights of a car appeared. The car backed out, leaving a parking space for Grace. She took a deep breath and pulled into the space.
Grace turned her car off, unbuckled her seatbelt, and took her handbag off of the passenger seat. She stepped out of the car, put her handbag over her shoulder, pressed the lock button on her keys, she heard the door click, and walked toward the door. She opened the door and quickly scanned the room, she didn’t see James. She realized her worst fears, she was going to be the first one there, I’ll seem to eager she thought. She started to turn to head the bathroom, when James walked in.
“Hi Grace, thank you for coming. I got caught in traffic. Have you been waiting long? said, James.
Hi James, I just walked in,” said Grace. The gave each other a friendly embrace. And joined the line.
“What do you usually order when you come to Starbucks? It’s on me, I invited you,” said James.
Grace pulled out her iPhone, “I’ll pay for my drink, I’ll get stars and free drink at some point,” Grace liked it better that way.
“I insist, Grace. Let me get the drinks,” said James.
“Just a tall black coffee, no room for cream,” said Grace saying a mental goodbye to her skinny vanilla latte.
“You’re a cheap date,” said James looking at the barista. “We’ll have a tall dark roast coffee, no room and a venti dark roast with a double shot of espresso.”
I’m a cheap date, thought Grace. I didn’t think this was a date. James handed her the tall coffee and they walked to the pickup station to wait for James’ special order drink.
“I’ve got an important date in court this morning at nine, I’ll need the extra caffeine,” said James.
“Oh, what’s happening?” said Grace.
“I’m the lead attorney for Paxton Oil. Maybe you read about it in the paper or saw it on the news how the city is suing Paxton for polluting Clear Creek.”
“I have. You’re representing Paxton?” said Grace.
James picked up his drink and guided Grace to a table. James placed his drink on the table and pulled out a chair for Grace. Grace slid in and said, “Thank you.” She thought about the gesture. Mike never pulled out her chair. What did this mean?
James sat down, “The city is being unfair to Paxton. I think I’m going to get the judge to dismiss the case.”
“The spill in the creek came from Paxton’s holding tanks, that’s what I read, is that true?” said Grace.
“I’m not arguing that point. I’m arguing the city should be suing the company that made the holding tank. It’s all legal gymnastics, blame someone else. If you’re not at the end of the blame game you can get off.”
Grace hadn’t touched her coffee. She stared at James, “Don’t you think Paxton has a social responsibility to the city to clean up the creek? It used to be clean enough to swim in it. Now, the city forbids swimming or fishing in it.”
James held up his hands, “Whose side are you on? If I win, I get a big bonus and a trip to Aspen for two this winter.”
Grace bit her tongue, her first thought was Matt I have to start listening to you. She said, “I like clean water, I like a healthy environment. And, I don’t like companies that take advantage of the law to stick it to the public.”
“Paxton has a right to a strong defense. That’s what I’m paid to do. If the city loses, they’ll have lost to the better lawyer. And, there are not too many lawyers in the city better than me,” said James.
Grace stared at James. He continued to make his case to the jury or the judge or whoever. She wasn’t listening, she noticed his veneers, sparkly white. She looked at his gesturing hands and manicured fingernails. She turned her attention to his hair, perfect, not a hair out of place and path straighter than the edge of a square table.
James finished his summation, he placed both palms flat on the table and looked at Grace, waiting for her applause.
Grace said, “That’s nice, James. I have a question for you, do. you mind?”
“Of course not,” said James.
“What’s the difference between a curve ball and fast ball?”

Chapter 8 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 8 – Grace Knew She Didn’t Tell Matt the Truth

Grace felt her right eye beginning twitch and her heart racing. She couldn’t find her cell phone. She turned her purse upside down on the kitchen countertop. She scattered the contents loose change splattered on the floor. She ran into the living room and ran her hand inside the edges of the sofa. She pulled the cushions off the sofa and tossed them on the floor. I should have a landline, she screamed at herself. She felt as if she were going to faint. Then she remembered where she last had her phone, it was in the master bathroom.
The bathroom was a mess, she hadn’t bothered to clean it up. “Why did I leave it this way. I am losing it. I am losing it,” she screamed to no one.
She grabbed at the the dirty towels strewn across the floor and tossed them into the soaker tub. She turned toward the counter. She stopped when she saw her cell phone in one of the two basins. The faucet was dripping a steady stream of water on it. She turned the water off and took hold of her cell phone, and said, “Oh, no, it won’t work. I know it won’t work.”
She hit speed dial, “James? James? Please pick up. James, you’ve got to help me.”
“What’s wrong, Grace?”
“Matt. Matt ran away,” Grace hollered.
“He’s probably at a friend’s house. Have you called his friends?” said James nonchalantly.
“I’m serious, he’s run away. He left me a note. He’s going to live in the mountains. Mike showed him a cave when he was a little boy. He’ll be alone in the mountains, James. You’ve got to help me,” said Grace, her voice shaking.
“I’d like to, Grace, but I’ve got an important meeting I can’t miss. I’ll come over this evening. We’ll go out for dinner and talk about it. Got to run,” said James ending the call.
Grace felt herself starting to pass out, she was falling and screaming.
“Mom, Mom are you okay?” hollered Matt.
Grace looked up from the floor. The bedsheets were still wrapped around her. “I was having a nightmare, that’s all, Matt. Come here and give me a hug,” said Grace.
Grace held Matt close to her, she didn’t want to let go, but Matt pushed away. “You’ll be okay, Mom. Remember what the counselor told us about nightmares?”
Grace got to her feet, holding the sheet, “I remember, Matt. I’m okay. Go back to bed.”
“You sure? I can get you a bottle of water if you want it.”
“I’m all set. I love you,” said Grace.
“I love you too, Mom,” said Matt as he turned and left the room.
Grace knew she wasn’t going back to sleep. She sat on the edge of her bed and took hold of her cell phone from the side table. She turned it over and stared at at the time, two-twelve a.m. She had to go to work in the morning. It was already morning, she laughed to herself, it’s just too early in the morning for normal people.
Grace set the phone back on the side table, she spread the sheet out on the bed, put the blanket on top of it. Before she went back to bed, she walked into the master bathroom to make sure it wasn’t as messy as it was in her dream. She took a deep sigh of relief when she flicked the bathroom light on, The bathroom was clean, all the towels were clean and hanging in place with one exception, a hand towel. It was tossed on the counter. She couldn’t remember doing that, but then again, she thought, who else could have done it.
For the next two hours Grace checked the time on her iPhone every fifteen minutes. She turned on her right side. She turned back on her left side. She lied on her back. She lied on her belly. She flipped her pillow over searching for the cold side a half dozen times. Later, she remembered not checking her iPhone at five-fifteen. Her alarm sounded at six. When Grace walked into the bathroom her first words to herself as she looked into the mirror were, “You look like hell, girl.”
Grace stayed in the shower an extra ten minutes trying to wash the memories of the nightmare out of her system. It didn’t work. When she made her way to the kitchen, Matt was waiting for her. He had a bowl of Cheerios, a piece of toast covered with peanut butter, a glass of milk, and an apple in front of him.
“Mind if I start without you, Mom. Today’s the first day of basketball camp. I’ll need my energy. Jimmy’s mom is going to take us and she said it’s fine for me to stay after camp until you pick me up. You can call her if you don’t believe me,” said Matt taking a bite of his peanut butter toast.
“Don’t talk with food in your mouth,” said Grace. She turned and walked over to the coffee pot and measured out two large scoops, she planned to make herself an extra strong serving of coffee this morning.
Grace turned to Matt, “I’m sorry for snapping, Matt. I didn’t fall back to sleep until after 5.”
Matt shrugged, “It’s okay. He took another bite of his toast.
Grace turned back to the coffee maker trying to wish it to hurry. Her iPhone sat on the counter in front of her. She heard a ding, and saw a text message. It was from James.
“Who’s that?” asked Matt.
“Oh, just a friend from work who wants to meet me at Starbucks. I think I’ll turn to coffee off and leave a bit early. You sure you’ll be okay?”
“Yup. I’ll turn off the lights, and make sure all the doors are locked. I won’t go out of the house until Jimmy’s mom pulls in the driveway.”
“Thanks, Matt,” said Grace then wondered why she didn’t tell him the truth. She felt guilty it was one of the rules they both agreed to observe.

Chapter 7 ~ Doing it our Way

Chapter 7 ~ You Know He’s A Jerk, Mom. Don’t You?

It was seven p. m. and Grace and Matt were on their way home. Grace stayed much longer than she expected. Grace had driven nearly two of the four miles to their home and not a word was spoken between she and Matt. Every once in a while, Grace turned to look at Matt. Each time, Matt was staring out the window.
Grace came to a stop at a red light. She turned slightly toward Matt and said, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” said Matt. He kept staring out the window.
“Matthew, don’t give me nothing. I know when something is wrong, are you going to tell me?” said Grace.
Matt kept this body tilted toward the window, but turned his head toward Grace, “Mom, nothing is wrong, okay. I’m just quiet, that’s all.”
The light turned green, a driver blasted a horn behind them. Grace felt like making an obscene gesture, but Matt was in the car with her. Instead, she waved and drove off. Grace knew the problem. She wanted to hear it from Matt so they could talk about it. It was unlike him to clam up. She wasn’t sure how to handle it.
Grace said, “Want to go to Brenton’s for an ice cream? You love their waffle cones.”
“No thanks, Mom. I’m not hungry. I ate a lot at the barbecue,” said Matt, his face staring out the window.
Grace’s heart was somewhere in her stomach. She replayed the barbecue in her mind. She knew Matt did not like James the moment they met. As soon as he gave James the snarky remark about how he liked to be called Matt instead of Matthew, she knew. Matt was like Mike, once they made their minds up about someone, the door closed and the key was tossed away. There was no way of reopening the door.
Grace thought she didn’t like James at first. He came across as stuck up. But, then she warmed up to him. He listened to her. She laughed for the first time in the longest time. They clinked bottles a couple of times when they said the same thing at the same time. It was as if they were in each other’s head at the moment.
Jane came by a couple of times to see how it was going and she remembered Jane leaving and turning and winking, and Grace remembered that she gave Jane a wide smile. A sure signal that this meet up was better, much better than the previous ones Jane had put together. She didn’t pay attention to Matt. She saw him tossing a football with someone she didn’t know. He looked like he was enjoying himself.
Grace was pulling into the driveway, when Matt turned to her and said, “Are you going to go out with him?”
Grace didn’t speak for a moment, she pushed the garage door opener and watch the garage door slowly make its way up. She drove in, put the car in park, and turned off the engine.
“Well?” Said Matt.
“Well, what?” Asked Grace as if she didn’t know.
“Are you going to go out with him?”
“With who? I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Grace regretted saying what she said, the moment the words came out of her mouth.
“You know he’s a jerk, Mom, don’t you? He didn’t know who the starting quarterback is for the Cowboys. Everybody knows that one, even you.”
“That doesn’t make James a jerk. He’s different, that’s all,” said Grace defensively.
Matt rolled his eyes. Then he said, “You never answered me, are you going out with him.”
“He has a name, Matthew. His name is not him. It’s James,” said Grace.
“Whatever,” said Matt.
“I don’t want to argue, Matt. I don’t know if I’m going out with him. We didn’t make any plans. Yes, I gave him my number and he gave me his number. That’s all that happened.”
“I bet he doesn’t know a curve ball from a fast ball. Anyways, I’m tired. I’m going to bed early,” Matt got out of the car and headed into the house.
Grace sat in the car, her hands gripping the steering wheel as if she was hanging on for life. Matt had never gone to bed without saying goodnight. He had never gone to bed without kissing her goodnight. Oh God, she prayed, what am I going to do? Please help me. She laid her forehead on the top of the steering wheel and felt the tears filling her eyes and overflowing and flowing down her cheeks until they dripped off her chin, and landed on her jeans.

Chapter 6 ~ Doing it Our Way

Chapter 6 ~ Don’t Worry About Me Mom

Grace parked her five-year-old Chevy next to the curb in front of Jane’s house. She pulled her visor down, opened the small mirror, and stared at herself. She looked at a tiny line near her eye. Next, she noticed a gray hair. She reached into the car console and picked up a brush, she moved her hair around until the gray hair disappeared. Grace took a deep breath when Matt interrupted her.
“Mom, you look great, I like your shirt. We’re going to a barbecue, you don’t have to look perfect,” said Matt.
Grace thought, perfect? I’m not wearing makeup, I have a gray hair. I have a line near my eye. And, I’m wearing the light blue Cowboys’ t-shirt Matt gave me for Christmas, year old jeans, and my Nike’s. Some fashion plate, she thought.
Grace said, “Best behavior, Matt. I don’t know if you’ll have anyone to play with. Just be polite. We’ll only stay an hour or so, then we’ll leave.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mom. I won’t cause a problem. Can I take my basketball in with me?”
“No. It’s a barbecue. Don’t overstuff your plate. You can always go back for more,” cautioned Grace.
“But everything tastes better with barbecue sauce, Mom.”
“Matthew, let’s go,” said Grace opening her door and sliding out.
Grace and Matt walked up the sidewalk to the front door. Grace heard country music coming from the rear of Jane’s house. When they reached the door. Grace saw a note posted on the door.
The Door’s Open
Bring Your Appetite and a Fun attitude
The Party is in the back.
Matt nudged Grace, “I brought my appetite. Let’s go.”
Grace took a deep breath, she wondered if Jane set her up with another guy who was as interesting as a rock. The last guy Jane set her up with was a piano player. He played in jazz clubs throughout the city. When Jane introduced them, the first words out of his mouth were, “If you’re into jazz, I’m into you, dig?”
“Great sense of humor, too,” added Jane. Jane hurried off to the kitchen to work on the dinner leaving Grace alone with the jazz guy who talked non stop about his last ten gigs. Grace vowed to never listen to jazz again after the evening was over.
Grace and Matt walked into the house, through the living room, and into the dining room. A sliding glass door was open and led to a large wooden deck overlooking Jane’s backyard.
Matt said, “It already smells good. I’m starving.”
Grace rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and said silently, “Lord, help to get through this afternoon without making a scene, amen.” She followed Matt onto the deck.
Grace walked aside Matt. She went on high alert when saw Jane handing a beer to a man about her height, blond hair, cut neat and wearing clothes that made him look like he stepped off the cover of GQ. He was dressed in a white shirt, new jeans, and cowboy boots. Grace thought, give me a break, a want to be cowboy.
Jane turned and saw Grace, she hollered, “Grace. I’m so happy you came. Come over here, I want you to meet someone.”
Matt tugged on Grace’s arm, “Mom, can I go and check out the food?”
“Not until we’re introduced, then you’re on your own,” said Grace.
“I don’t like him,” said Matt.
“You haven’t met him,” said Grace.
“I can tell. I bet he doesn’t know the name of the starting quarterback for the Cowboys. Want to bet a dollar?” Said Matt.
“You’re on,” said Grace.
Jane met Grace and Matt halfway. “Hi Matt,” Jane said, then she took Grace by the arm. She added, “His name is James Donald. He’s perfect for you. Same age. He has a good job with a prestigious law firm. He’s never been married. I did my homework. This time, I know you struck gold.”]
“Mom, remember our bet,” said Matt from behind Jane and Grace.
“What bet?” Jane asked Grace.
“It’s nothing. Something about how much Matt said he could eat.”
A moment later, Jane gave a big smile and said, “James, this is Grace and her son Matt.”
Grace smiled, extended her hand and said, “Hi Jim, pleased to meet you, I’m Grace, but you already know that.”
“I prefer James, but it is a pleasure to meet you. Jane’s told me so many wonderful things about you. And, this is Matthew? Pleasure to meet you, Matthew,” said James extending his hand.
Matt shook his hand and said, “I prefer Matt. And, do you know who the starting quarterback is for the Dallas Cowboys?”

Chapter 5 – Doing It Our Way

Chapter 5 – I Don’t Know What I’m Going To Do With You

Grace didn’t dare wait on the porch for the man of the house. That’s what Matt considered himself. The thought made her chuckle to herself. She stood by the living room window staring up the street, the opposite direction from Ellen’s house. She checked her iPhone, it was two oh five. Matt promised to be home by two. Then she remembered, Mike, he was never on time. He was even late for their wedding. He made some excuse to Father Pailo he was held up by a long train. It was a bitter sweet memory for her.
A quick movement at the end of the street interrupted Grace’s thought. There he comes, she thought. Matt was in the lead and three other skateboarders followed him. He signaled to his friends to catch up and parallel him on the street. The four boys skateboarded down the street in one line spanning the road’s width. Matt carried the basketball and tossed it to Tommy who tossed it to Jimmy who tossed it to Todd. And, so it went, the ball traveling back and forth between skateboarders until Matt peeled off into his driveway waving goodbye to his friends.
He jumped off the skateboard and watched it glide into the open garage stopping when it hit the rear garage wall. He bounded across the lawn and took the three steps onto the porch with a single bound. He opened the door, “Hi, Mom. You catch the way we came down the street passing the ball? Really cool, right?”
“Yes, it was really, cool, but I think it’s a bit dangerous. What if cars were coming?”said Grace.
“We were careful, Mom. Besides, there weren’t any cars. I had it all under control,” said Matt heading to the kitchen to grab a snack.
Grace followed Matt. She watched the way he walked, just like Mike. I’m watching a small version of Mike, a image of Mike came into her mind. Oh, I wish I didn’t have to go today.
Matt walked straight to the refrigerator, opened the door, and stared, “What’s good in here, Mom? I’m starving.”
“We’re going to Jane’s for the barbecue, remember. We leave in forty-five minutes. There are oranges and grapes on the table. Leave time to shower, and change your clothes.”
Matt took an orange and picked off four grapes, “Do I have to, Mom? I’m clean, look at me.”
“Yes, you have to and before you put the grapes in your mouth, wash your hands. You must have a billion germs on your hands,” said Grace.
“No, I don’t, Mom. I only have two thousand, three hundred, twenty-one. I counted them,” said Matt heading to the sink, turning the faucet on and placing his hands in the running water.
“Soap. Soap, Matt.”
“Got it,” Matt said and turned toward Grace and gave her the same impish smile his dad did so many times.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you,” said Grace.
“Do what Dad always said when you said the same thing to him,” said Matt.
“And, what was that, Matthew.”
“Remember, Mom. When you said, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, Dad would always says, love me. It always made you smile,” said Matt wiping his hands on his t-shirt. He turned and headed toward his room, tossing the orange up close to the ceiling and catching it behind his back.
Grace stood across the kitchen area and followed Matt as he walked to his room, her eyes moistening, and she gently shook her head.

Chapter 4 – Doing It Our Way

Chapter 4 – Doing It Our Way

Jane called Grace later that night. Here’s how the conversations went:
“Grace, you’ll never believe what I’m about to tell you.”
“Then, why are you telling me, if you don’t think I’ll believe you?” said Grace.
Jane ignored Grace’s comment, “I called Ellen and invited her to the barbecue. Ellen asked me who else is going. I said, a few friends and there will be someone to play with Tommy. Then she said, if your friend Grace and her bully son are going, we’re not going.”
“What did you say?” Asked Grace.
“I said, “what happened?” That’s what I said. And, do you know what she said?”
“No,” answered Grace.
“Ellen said, “you’ll take her side. I’ve seen you two paling around with one another. Take this as a big, fat no.” And, she ended the call. What happened, Grace?” Asked Jane.
After Grace finished providing the details, she added, “It’s okay to cancel the barbecue, I understand.”
Jane said, “Not so fast, girlfriend. I have an iPhone and I know how to use it. The party is on 3:30 p.m. Saturday, at my house. Look your best, I’ve handpicked the one for you.”
“Who is he?” Asked Grace.
“Let’s say he’s a year older than you. He drives a BMW. He’s tired of playing the field and wants to settle down. And, his looks? If I wasn’t happily married to Fred, I’d tell you not to come and take my best shot at him. He’ll make you drool. Drop the gym clothes. A bit of makeup and take a trip to the Salon, please? It’s my last best shot for you,” pleaded Jane.
Grace chuckled, “I’ll drop the gym clothes, one out of three is pretty good, right?”
The friends had a good laugh. Grace went into the bathroom and began searching for gray hairs and seeing how noticeable the tiny lines were around her eyes. She walked out of the bathroom and into her bedroom, she stared at a photo of Mike and she on her bedside table and said, “Mike, what should I do? Can you help me? I’m so confused. I know Matt needs a good man in his life. I can’t imagine meeting another man like you. After all, you were the best. You always told me not to settle for second best. Please Mike, send me a sign. I’m running on a treadmill and going nowhere.”
Grace went back into the bathroom, played a bit with her hair, then went back to the dining area. Matt was sitting at the table texting on his phone. Grace said, “Who are texting, Matt?”
Matt turned at looked at Grace, “Tommy texted me and we’ve been going back and forth.”
“Tommy?”
“Yes, he apologized. He said he was out of line. I told him it was okay. Now, we’re trying to figure out where to play basketball since his mom is made at you and me. He said it’ll take her a week, but she’ll get over it.”
“What about his tooth?”
“The dentist saved it. Tommy wants to be on my team the next time we play two on two.”
“I don’t understand you boys at all,” said Grace.
“I told you, Mom, it was nothing. I can take care of myself. Dad always told me I was strong enough. Remember when he got deployed the last time, he told me, I was the man of the house. So, you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”
Grace took a deep breath, fought back the flood of tears that were threatening to overspill her emotional dam. She walk to Matt and gave him a hug and kiss on his forehead. She said, “Thanks, Matt.” Grace quickly turned away and went to her bedroom and cried.

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?

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.”