Academy of Bards 2017 Valentine’s Invitational story
Yahoo Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mickeyminner
Even though the room was crowded with celebrating friends, it wasn’t difficult to focus on the couple standing with upraised champagne glasses.
“They look so happy,” a middle-aged woman observed, “even after all these years.”
“Not much has changed since the day they met… that’s for sure,” a younger woman agreed.
The older woman shifted. “How did they meet, Sally? I don’t think I ever heard that story.”
Sally grinned remembering a long ago day. “I guess I can take the credit for introducing them,” she declared proudly.
“Yeah. Momma and I were living in what the landlord called apartments. In actuality, it was a house and he rented out the bedrooms.”
“Was that legal?”
“Probably not.” The reply was accompanied by a shrug. “Anyway, I wasn’t very old and I didn’t understand much but I knew Momma was sad a lot. So, me being me, I was always looking for ways to make her happy.”
“And you found one?”
“I sure did.”
Twenty five years earlier…
Mattie pulled into her driveway slowing her car’s speed to allow the garage door to open fully before guiding the Forester into its parking spot. Turning off the engine, she grabbed the paper bag on the passenger seat then pushed the door open. After placing the bag of groceries on the step in front of the door leading into the kitchen, she headed back out of the garage and walked down the driveway to check for mail in the box at the curb. Knowing the mailman took great pleasure shoving letters and magazines to the very back of the boxes, she pulled the door open then bent over to peer inside.
Mattie jerked upright at the sound of the enthusiastic greeting then gazed quizzically at the small girl astride a tricycle on the sidewalk. “Hi. Aren’t you the little girl from across the street?” she asked recognizing the child she had exchanged waves with several times.
“Yes. You’re pretty.”
Mattie smiled. “Uh, thank you. Are you supposed to cross the street?”
“No,” the girl quickly replied with a vigorous shake of her head, causing her pigtails to dance about. “Momma say, ‘never cross the street. It’s dangerous’.”
“But you did cross the street,” Mattie pointed out.
The child nodded. “I know. Can I play in your yard?” she asked.
“Why do you want to play in my yard?” Mattie asked mystified since the house the girl lived in had a rather large yard of its own.
“The man over there, he say I can’t play in his yard,” the child explained, a puzzled look on her face. “But I’m a little kid… I need to play. Momma say, ‘someday, we have a house of our own with a fence around it’; and I can play all day in the yard. But, now, I have to do as the man say,” she said glumly. “I don’t like that man… he makes Momma sad.”
“Can’t say I blame you,” Mattie muttered having had her own less than pleasurable conversations with her bombastic neighbor. “So you came across the street to ask to play in my yard?”
The child’s head bopped up and down. “Yes,” she exclaimed. “You have a big yard and a big fence. I can play here and Momma will be happy. Is that okay?” she asked hopefully.
Glancing across the street, Mattie spotted a woman hurriedly exit the house. “Sally,” she shouted frantically.
“Over here,” Mattie called to the woman.
“Oh, my goodness,” the woman exclaimed hurrying across the street. “Sally, what are you doing over here?” she demanded after kneeling down to hug her daughter. “You’ve given me a fright.”
“I sorry, Momma. But I come to talk to the pretty lady.”
Her cheeks colored by a growing blush, Mattie smiled self-consciously as the woman stood. “She’s a charmer,” she noted with a laugh then offered a hand in greeting. “I’m Martha, but friends have the good sense to call me Mattie.”
“Becka,” she responded warmly before asking her daughter. “What is so important that you crossed the street even though you know you are never ever to do that?”
“She has a big yard, Momma,” Sally stated excitedly. “I can play here and the man won’t make you sad.”
“Oh, honey,” Becka sighed. “You can’t just ask someone if you can play in their yard. Someday, we’ll—”
“You know,” Mattie interjected, “there’s no reason she can’t play over here.”
Becka shook her head. “That’s very nice but no.”
“But Momma,” Sally protested again.
“Honey, you can’t impose yourself on someone you don’t even know.”
“Um, we’re not exactly strangers,” Mattie stated factually. “We’ve waved to one another for weeks now. It’s nice to finally know her name… and yours.” She retrieved her mail from the box then shut the door. “I was about to go in and make me a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Why don’t you join me and we can discuss Sally’s request. I make a mean peanut butter and jelly… I bet you like that, don’t you?” she asked the child.
“I do, I do,” Sally eagerly told her.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Becka hesitated. “I don’t want to bother you.”
“Not a bother at all,” Mattie brushed off the woman’s concerns. “Sally, do you want to ride you trike in the yard while I make lunch?” she asked opening the gate at the side of the driveway.
“Yes, I do,” Sally said while pedaling vigorously toward the opening.
“There’s a big patio out back,” Mattie told the child struggling to pedal through some high grass. “It would be a lot easier to ride on,” she added as she secured the gate. “Shall we?” she asked Becka, indicating the way into the house.
“Doesn’t look like I have much choice,” Becka surrendered as she watched Sally and her tricycle disappear around the corner of the house. “You’ve already won over my daughter.”
After lunch, Becka helped clear the table while Sally returned to riding her tricycle.
“Let’s go sit down,” Mattie suggested after placing the last of the dirty plates in the sink. “Would you like more coffee?”
“I guess another cup won’t hurt me. But let me clean up those dishes,” Becka quickly offered.
“Leave ‘em,” Mattie said with a smile. “I can always do dishes but it’s rare to be able to spend an afternoon enjoying such pleasant company.”
“Goodness, you must have lots of friends who visit,” Becka replied.
“I have my share… but most work during the day. You can watch Sally from in here,” Mattie said leading her guest into a small sitting room with a wall of windows overlooking the back yard. “Anyway, let’s not talk about me. Tell me about Sally. She seems like a great kid.”
Becka settled into a comfortable chair next to the windows. “She is.”
“Forgive me for sticking my nose where it probably doesn’t belong but I notice you don’t wear a wedding ring. Is there a father in her life?”
Becka chewed her lower lip for a moment. “She’s never had a dad,” she finally said with a slight shake of her head. “Sperm donor,” she clarified after seeing the concerned look on Mattie’s face.
“Ah. I know it’s none of my business but… uh…” Mattie’s face scrunched up as she struggled to ask her question without insulting her guest. “You don’t seem to have much going for you,” she started carefully. “Doesn’t seem like having a child—”
“Was very smart,” Becka finished the thought but her voice displayed no displeasure with the observation.
“I didn’t mean to offend.”
“You didn’t,” Becka assured her. “Fact is, it was… at least at the time, I thought planning for a baby was a pretty good idea. Turns out, I misjudged one key factor.”
Becka squirmed a bit. “My fiancé.”
“You don’t have to talk about it. I should have never asked.”
“No, it’s okay.”
“Are you sure? I mean, I don’t want to seem like a busy-body but I am interested.” For reasons she couldn’t quite understand, Mattie felt a need to hear the woman’s story.
Becka shifted her position then settled back into the chair. “My ex and I had talked for a couple of years about starting a family. Our relationship was going great… we had gotten engaged and were making wedding plans. So, it seemed like the right time to do the deed… so to speak. We went to a sperm bank and chose a donor. We even moved into a bigger apartment so there would be room for the baby. We decided since she had the better job… bigger paycheck… she would keep working. To put some extra money in savings, I would stay at my job until just before the baby was due. We had it all figured out. So I got pregnant.” She gazed out the window at Sally who was wandering about the yard scoping out the new territory. “Even though it all went bad after that,” she said sadly, “I wouldn’t give up that little girl for anything.”
Mattie waited patiently hoping the story would be continued.
Becka sighed then turn away from the window. “I was eight months pregnant when my ex came home from work one night and told me she was having second thoughts.”
“A little late for that,” Mattie blurted out.
“A little,” Becka agreed with a frown. “She said thoughts of the future… marriage, baby, domestic life… was causing her anxiety attacks and she had to get out.”
“Did you slap her upside the head with a two by four?”
Becka chuckled. “I probably should have but I didn’t think about it at the time. I did ask her what the hell was she thinking. The baby was almost upon us… we couldn’t just say it’s a no go. But she was insistent. So I told her to pack her crap and get the hell out. She could send me a check every month to cover the rent and I would raise the baby myself.”
“What did she do?”
“She packed and left. I never got a check… or the wedding I dreamed of.”
“Bitch,” Mattie exclaimed angrily. “What did you do?” she asked in a softer tone.
“I went into pure panic mode… right up to the moment Sally was placed into my arms.” Becka smiled at the memory. “Hard to believe someone so small and innocent can fill an empty heart with so much love. Best day of my life.”
“That’s beautiful. I take it your ex didn’t have a similar change of heart.”
“She didn’t even visit me in the hospital.”
Becka shook her head. “Luckily, I had yet to quit my job when my ex dropped her bombshell so I still had a paycheck.”
“So you kept the apartment?”
Another shake of the head. “Without her help on the rent, I couldn’t afford it. I managed to find a little dump close to work and, with help of friends, I scraped by. The one thing I hadn’t planned on was day care. I hate leaving Sally with complete strangers but I can’t take her to work. It breaks my heart… and its cleaned out my savings.”
“Couldn’t she stay with family during the day?”
“I wouldn’t want my worst enemy having to spend time with my mother,” Becka sneered. “Unfortunately, she’s the only family I’ve got.”
“Of the major kind.”
“That’s the pits.”
“So far, we’ve managed. Any time I think I’ve hit bottom, I just look at Sally. She always puts a smile on my face.”
“I’ve noticed,” Mattie said smiling. “So you’re down to living with the crank across the street,” she commented sadly.
“I was hoping we could stay there for more than a few weeks but Mr. Gingsey keeps hinting that he’ll have to raise the rent to re-seed his lawn.”
“He calls that weed patch a lawn,” Mattie huffed.
“I know he’s full of it but if he raises the rent, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s no way I can pay an increase, no matter how small it is. I don’t know,” she mumbled dejectedly, “I guess we may end up living in my car.”
“Like hell you will,” the words exploded out of Mattie’s mouth.
“I don’t have much choice,” Becka moaned. “The rest of my paycheck goes for food and Sally’s daycare.”
Mattie bolted out of her chair. “You’ve got a choice,” she exclaimed not fully believing the words were coming out of her mouth. “Come with me… please.”
“I want to show you something.”
Becka hesitated then she stood and followed Mattie out of the sitting room to a hallway.
“This place was my Mom’s,” Mattie started to explain. “I moved in when it got to be too much for her to maintain the yard and keep up the housework. While she was alive, I had my bedroom downstairs. After she died, I… well, it just seemed upstairs had too many memories,” she said walking the length of the hallway to a doorway at the far end. “Anyway, there are two bedrooms up here. You and Sally can share the master or Sally can have her own room… whatever works for you.”
“Mattie, what are you suggesting?”
“I’m suggesting you move in here. These rooms aren’t being used. The house is plenty big so we won’t be bumping into one another. And Sally will have that nice, big fenced yard she wants.”
“Momma, we can live here?” Sally asked in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
Mattie and Becka spun about to find an apprehensive yet hopeful Sally standing in the bedroom doorway.
“No, honey,” Becka said lifting her daughter into her arms and hugging her tight. “I could never afford to pay the rent you’d be asking,” she told Mattie.
“I don’t recall asking for rent,” Mattie countered.
“If you don’t want rent, are you expecting something else?” Becka asked guardedly.
Mattie laughed. “Oh, heck, I’m not trying to take advantage of you. But I will admit that it would be nice having someone to talk to besides the TV.”
“Momma, I like it here. She’s nice not like that mean man.”
“Momma, please,” Sally pleaded.
“Give me one good reason not to say yes,” Mattie challenged.
“I barely know you.”
“Becka, you’re currently living with an old man and how many others you barely know,” Mattie exclaimed in exasperation. “Why would moving in here be so different from your situation across the street? Except here you wouldn’t have to pay rent and I’m nicer than Mr. Gingsey.”
“I don’t know,” Becka began warily, “I just—”
“For goodness sakes, think about Sally. Do you really want her constantly having to move from one dump to another? I’m offering you a chance to get back on your feet. Live here. Put the money you spend on rent into savings. Heck, if you want, you can save what you pay for daycare, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lucky for me, Mom left me enough so I could retire. Sally can stay with me when you’re at work. We can be playmates,” Mattie offered, returning the girl’s smile. “Would you like to live here, Sally?”
“Yes,” Sally agreed emphatically.
“Asking her isn’t fair,” Becka protested.
“If it gets you to say yes, I don’t care.”
Becka carried Sally across the bedroom. For several minutes, she peered unseeingly out the window as she considered Mattie’s offer.
“Momma, there’s a squirrel out there. See it? And lots of grass to play. That’s fun, huh?”
“Lot more fun than the weed patch across the street,” Mattie commented.
Becka turned away from the window. “You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you?”
Back to the wedding anniversary…
“Momma and I moved in with Mattie the next day. It didn’t take long for them to figure out they were in love. Momma got her wedding. I got my big yard and, not that I knew it at the time, the best second mom a kid could hope for. And the rest, as they say, is history. And, yes, they are still as much in love today as they were twenty-five years ago.”
“And all because you wanted someplace to play.”
“Nope… all because I wanted Momma to be happy.”
HAPPY VALENTINES DAY… even if it’s APRIL FOOLS DAY