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.”