Note: The following is a short story from my imagination during a recent bout of insomnia. Nothing below is true, all characters are fictional. Thank you. 🙂
I hurried my two oldest kiddos into the house from playing outside. The wind was blowing ferociously across our bare lawn. The heat had taken its toll, not to mention the two month long drought. What little grass left was brown and crunchy. But, what else could you expect from central Texas in summer? Just as I figured, the dirt had blown into the entry way from the kids going in and out! I’d have to sweep again. As I made my way through the house, I saw that blocks were on the floor; paper and crayons, too. Didn’t I just tell them to pick up? Suddenly, the wrinkles and blemishes in my entire home glared at me as though under a spotlight: The rug was worn, my rocker-recliner was threadbare and shabby. My dishes didn’t match, nor my flatware. My only wall decorations are some photos that are over two years old. How could I have Camille over? Why did she want to come by my house? She dripped of wealth. I’d seen her wear a fur coat before, and her husband’s suits were always the latest fashions. I never told her that we bought most of our clothes, including my husband’s suits, at Goodwill! Heavens, no! She’d laugh me outta my own house!
“Children! Get these blocks and art supplies off o’ this floor! Emily, get the vacuum and go over this living room floor. I told you children that my friend, Camille was coming over, now hurry, please!” I sounded tense, because I was. I had my special chicken supreme in the oven. I’d baked some cookies, praying all the while they wouldn’t burn, not today of all days. They didn’t, so I felt a slight tinge of relief. But the real stress hadn’t begun. They hadn’t even come yet! I just needed to get through this visit with Camille and Rick, then everything could fall apart. But not yet.
I ran into the bathroom for one last once over of myself. Yep, just as I thought, bags under my eyes, split ends, unpainted nails. I had hoped I might find a supermodel looking back at me, but no such luck. I looked like myself, like a worn out Pastor’s wife. I patted my nose with a bit of powder, thinking back to days gone by. Camille and I had been good friends in school. We had so much in common. We dreamed of marrying good men, having families, getting jobs and “having it all” – family and money. Our paths took slightly different directions when I gave my life to Christ as a Senior in high school. Camille was happy for me, and claimed to know Christ as well, but she decided to stick with her plan to go to college and get that good paying job. She did it, too. She became an investment banker and met and married, Rick, a lawyer. They had a boy and a girl, a great house, nice cars – everything we had dreamed of as girls, Camille had gotten.
I met Jim at my church. We became friends, then much more. He had grown up in church and was such a godly man. I admired his walk with the Lord and couldn’t believe that a spiritual and good looking man would want me. We married after a brief engagement. I never went to college, but gave myself completely to my husband. He was called to the ministry, and I was called to him. I’d go to the ends of the earth with this man. We never had much money, and whenever we seemed to be getting ahead, I’d find out another addition to the family was on the way. The children were such a joy! I loved being home with them, reading to them, teaching them, loving them. I learned to sew and cook. I even took up cross stitching, something my high school self would have never done!
The baby’s crying shook me from my reverie. I ran to get him and on the way, I heard a knock on the door. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I glanced at the clock on the stove. An hour early! Emily had just finished vacuuming and was winding up the cord. “Emily! Hurry up, she’s here! Get that put away!” I barked. Trent, my oldest boy, swept past me without a care in the world. “Trent! Go wash your face!” I snapped in a loud whisper. He scooted off in the direction of the bathroom and I tried to compose myself as I went toward the door.
I smoothed my skirt and plastered on a weak smile.
“Ronni!!” The tall, blonde wearing a blue silk dress shrieked my nickname and made me jump.
“Camille! Come in! It’s so good to see you!” I lied. I felt my heart rate increase exponentially. I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. She surely must feel as though she’s visiting a third world country.
She squeezed me in a warm embrace and I soon felt a bit more at ease.
“I haven’t been called that name in ages!” I laughed, while motioning her inside. “Hello, Rick. Good to see you.” He smiled and gave me a polite embrace. Naturally, my children came bursting in, with smiles and helloes. I worried what they might say, or ask!
“Why’d she call you ‘Ronni’?” My son inquired.
“OH! What an adorable little boy!” Camille exclaimed. “How old are you, dear?”
“I’m seven. I’ll be eight in two months, one week and three days.” Trent said.
I laughed. “But who’s counting, right?” I said with a nervous laugh.
“So, why’d she call you that?” He asked me, again.
“That’s what we all used to call your Mom in high school!” Camille explained. “It’s a nickname for Veronica.”
“I like ‘Veronica’ better.” He said.
“Emily, please get the baby out of his bed and change him for me. Before you go, Camille,” I said, turning to her, holding Emily around the shoulders, “this is my oldest, Emily.”
“What a beautiful girl!” Camille chimed.
“Thank you.” Emily replied, as though we’d drilled her on what to say. Which, we had.
I shooed the children into the bedroom to play so I could visit with my guests. I glanced at our bird clock – it made a bird call on the hour – to see that Jim wouldn’t be home for another 45 minutes, thinking they would be arriving then. He’d been up most of the night at the hospital with a family who’s teenager was in a car accident and was desperately needing to work on this Sunday’s sermons.
Camille did most of the talking. She told me all about our classmates (I hadn’t gone to the 20 year reunion last year) and what they were doing. The divorced ones – Trace and Jill Monroe, Bob and Susan Landon. The poor ones if she only knew. About Sam Crowder who was in jail for forging checks. All the while, she never looked at Rick. He sat there, nodding agreement, making general comments now and then, but never really involved.
“Did you hear about Mr. Worthington, the principal?” She said, sitting up straighter.
“No.” I said “What about him?”
“Rick, go get that scrapbook outta the car for me.” She said without looking his way. Rick got up and headed for the door. Was that a look of disgust, or maybe it was just fatigue? I wasn’t sure.
As soon as Rick left, Camille, sighed. “Oh, I’m so glad he’s gone! He just sits here like a bump on a log. I’m surprised he’s not snoring, that’s usually what he does. We’d be divorced, too, if it weren’t for the kids. Kara is a senior this year and Jake is right behind her. When they’re gone, I’m gone!” She said in disgust.
“I’m so sorry!” I said with great concern. This news and attitude shocked me. She fiddled with her diamond wedding ring, nearly the size of a walnut.
“Well, you know, that’s how it goes.” She said, tossing her blonde curls. “He is just so boring. We’re in a major rut!” She rolled her eyes, then paused looking around at the family photos on the wall. “You’re kids certainly are cute. I could never do what you do, sit around the house all day, wiping noses and other things. I was so happy when mine got past that!” She said with a laugh. “Are you happy, Ronni?” She asked me, with a look of genuine puzzlement.
“Yes, I am.” I said boldly, sitting up straighter in my denim skirt and casual button-up shirt. “I’m very happy.” I felt guilty for saying it though, after my behavior earlier that day. I’m sure my kids would have answered differently about my happiness, after my display earlier. I started to be more honest with her, telling her that I struggle to be happy sometimes, but our conversation was interrupted by the sound of the door.
Jim and Rick had met outside and they were talking about golf, and how Jim would love to play.
“I’d love to take you out later today, if you’d like to go.” I heard Rick say.
“Rick! You said we could go to the mall today on our way home! How can you just go and make other plans like that?” Camille burst out.
It was an awkward moment. Jim tried to make excuses for why he couldn’t go. I stood silent, trying to think of what to do or say. Just then, we were saved by two bickering children and a fussy baby coming out of the bedroom. I was never so glad to hear crying in my life! I went to the back to tend to the matter when the smoke alarm started blaring.
I ran from the bedroom into the kitchen to see smoke billowing from the oven! The others came running in, leaving very little wiggle room in my small kitchen. Camille started coughing and fanning in front of her face. I opened the oven only to be greeted by more smoke.
“Is it burned?” Jim asked me.
“No.” I moaned. “It looks like it spilled over into the bottom of the oven and what fell is certainly burned. And burning!” I said, pitifully. I reached for a cookie sheet on the counter beside me to slide underneath my casserole dish in the oven to keep it from spilling over any more. As I pulled it toward me, the edge of the cookie sheet caught my glass measuring cup and sent it crashing to the floor into a million tiny pieces. Just then, Molly, my four year old, ran past me, right through the glass!
“MOLLY! I screamed. “You’re cut! You ran barefoot through that broken glass! Everybody stay back!” I yelled. Molly only looked at me questioningly. Her feet were fine, though I don’t know how it happened!
Rick started opening windows and doors. I pulled the casserole dish out of the oven, praying it was done, grabbed a broom and started sweeping up the glass. The spilled food on the oven was still burning, sending up plumes of smoke. We all coughed. Rick and Camille went outside, saying their eyes were burning. Mine were too. More from the tears stinging them than the smoke. I used a spatula to scrape up the spilled food out of the oven, hoping to stop the continual burning. Jim helped me the best he could. Flies soon came in to join us due to the open, and screen-less, windows and doors.
After several minutes of work, the kitchen was usable. I got the food on the table, and it was edible, praise the Lord. We swatted at flies for a full three hours after the fiasco ended, and I’d have to give my oven a good scrubbing. It would take two days for the burnt smell to fully vacate the house.
After serving everyone, I sat down, placing my napkin in my lap. I picked up my fork and made eye contact with Jim. A faint smile crossed his lips, then a bigger one. I started smiling, too, and before we knew it, we were laughing! We laughed and laughed…Camille and Rick stared at one another, as if to say “What made us decide to come here, again?” Jim reached for my hand across the table, tears glistening in his eyes from laughing so hard.
“The food turned out fine.” He said, softly. “It all worked out fine.” His words were few, but his eyes said much more. They said, “I love you. I’m here for you, no matter what.” The fears and feelings of inadequacy in Camille’s presence melted away. None of it mattered anymore. I looked at the little faces around my table, some chewing politely, others not so politely. Each one enjoying their meal, contented, happy. We didn’t have fine china or crystal. I knew I’d never have a mink coat, yet, I felt as though I owned a whole closet full! Camille and Rick were uncomfortable, probably embarrassed for me, but I didn’t mind anymore.
I served dessert and then we all moved into the living room to visit. The kids were free to play outside – and get dirty- while the baby napped. I was so glad Jim was home. He was comfortable in any situation, unencumbered by feelings of “measuring up” to anyone. I’d always liked that about him.
Soon, it was time for Camille to go. We all stood up, making our way out. As we got to the door, Camille and I embraced. She pulled back and looked at me. She seemed to be trying to think of the right words. Finally, she said, “Ronni, when you decided to marry Jim, and give up going to college, I couldn’t understand it. Why would you want to do that? Even today, on the way here, I was feeling so sorry for you.” She paused, looked down, and then into my eyes more intently. “But now, I know why you did it. I don’t feel sorry for you anymore.” She sniffed a bit, and I noticed her eyes were misty. “You’re the richest lady I know.”
As she walked across our crunchy grass toward her luxury car, I felt the same way.