I continued to pace in the hallway by the front door, glancing out the window every so often, waiting for headlights to sweep across the driveway. It was well after seven in the evening and Hayden Grace was late, which wasn’t completely unusual. Molly, our golden retriever, was on the upstairs landing looking down at me, following my back and forth movements while Casey sat on the stairs fiddling with her phone. I exhaled more sharply than I intended, startling them both when I heard the
gravel crunch outside.
“It’s about time…you’re late,” I said with exasperation, when she finally made her way into the house with strands of her long blonde hair sticking out under her knit cap, her book bag and snowboard bag in tow.
“Sorry,” she mumbled with no real remorse, as only a fifteen year old can do.
“I’m headed out, but Casey is here to babysit you,” I said, raising my voice at her retreating figure as she darted straight up the stairs brushing past Casey and Molly, headed to her room, dragging her bags on the floor.
“I don’t need a babysitter, Andy,” she shouted back as she slammed the door to her room.
“It’s ‘Mom’…” I shouted back as the deafening sounds of Fall Out Boy could be heard from her room. Just then, a faint sound of a horn beeped in the driveway.
“That’s me,” I said, taking a deep breath and looking at Casey who was still sitting on the stairs.
“No sweat, Mrs. Parker,” Casey said, giving me a half-hearted smile.
“I’ll be back around eleven,” I began to say as I glanced at my watch. My mind drifted to the hectic schedule I had the following day, “umm…maybe more like ten-thirty,” I clarified to the top of Casey’s head as she continued to play on her phone.
“Molly, how do I look?” I asked playfully, twirling around as I grabbed my long gray winter trench coat off the staircase banister. Molly raised her head and gave me a wag of her tail.
“That will do,” I said quietly and slipped out the front door to the waiting silver Nissan Altima in the driveway.
Noble’s Grill was far more crowded than I expected for a Tuesday night. I could see couples huddling over their dinner plates
engrossed in conversations, the twenty-something professionals swarming the bar and not very far away from them the older business men were drinking while trying to keep a subtle eye on those twenty-something professionals. One couple in particular in the far corner caught my eye. They were done eating, now holding hands and whispering to each other over the table, but I couldn’t stop staring at the man. The gentleman was about thirty years my senior, but from his broad shoulders he looked to
still be physically fit. He reached back raking his fingers through his short gray hair and laughed over something the women said. Something caught in my throat as I continued to stare shamelessly—he looked like I imagined Stefan would have, had he lived that long. A sudden sadness crept through me.
“Andy?” Gregg said across the table, breaking through my thoughts.
“Sorry, daydreaming,” I said shaking my head and trying to bring myself back from the past into the present.
“I was asking if you were free Friday night?” he repeated as he handed the waiter back the check. I tilted my head slightly to the side, mentally flipping through my calendar.
“Hayden Grace doesn’t have practice because of the competition on Saturday,” I mumbled to no one in particular.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?” he asked confused.
“It was nothing.”
“Does that mean you are free?” he asked again, waiting patiently for a reply with a tight smile.
“I could see if Casey is available,” I said, looking at him only to find his dark chocolate eyes staring back at me. “What?” I asked, suddenly self-conscious that I had food on my face.
“You’re beautiful,” he said simply, and I smiled.
“Yes, I’m free Friday.”
“That’s great because I was thinking…” he started saying, but I couldn’t help and glance back to the couple in the corner…they were no longer there. Clearly distracted, I tried to focus back on Gregg and what he was asking me. He wore black rimmed glasses that I imagined matched his once jet black hair now peppered with gray. Gregg was only a little taller than I was when we were standing side by side, but seated across from me he carried himself with confidence and a sophistication that I found alluring. Breaking away from his norm of wearing dress slacks and a suit jacket, tonight he wore a blue button up shirt with a maroon tie and khakis. I heard him cough, and I could tell he had asked me another question and was waiting for a proper response.
“That sounds nice,” I said taking a gamble with a generic answer and hoping it was adequate.
“Ok, good. Not everyone loves seafood so I wanted to ask,” he followed up. I sighed, knowing that I had answered correctly.
The drive home was quiet as I stared out the window, watching the snow flutter down among the small beacons of light from the
surrounding houses. It was only the second week of January and already the meteorologist on the local news station was promising record breaking snowfall by the end of the winter season.
“Andy, are you okay? I feel like you have been somewhere else this entire evening,” Gregg said when he pulled into my driveway.
“I’m sorry. I’ve just had a lot going on,” I said, making up a reasonable excuse. I could see the clock on the dash; it was just past ten thirty. This only increased my distraction as my mind raced about all the things I had to do to get Hayden Grace and myself ready for tomorrow.
“I understand,” he said, leaning over and brushing stray strands of blonde hair from my face, capturing my attention. Slowly he moved his fingers ever so softly down my cheek to my lips, sending small pulses of electricity racing through my body. Leaning in even closer he kissed my lips gently. “Have a good night,” he whispered, pulling back. I closed my eyes, letting the moment sink in before exhaling.
“Goodnight, Gregg. See you Friday,” I said at long last opening my eyes and staring out into the night.
“Pick you up around seven?” he asked, and I nodded getting out of the car. Casey was now sitting on the sofa in front of the TV but still playing on her phone. Molly immediately bounded down the stairs to greet me, getting her blonde hair all over my black tights.
“Okay, so that’s thirty dollars for tonight and are you free Friday at seven?” I asked Casey as we stood by the door.
“Yes, that should work fine,” she said, hesitating. “Mrs. Parker?”
“If you don’t mind me asking, but why does Hayden Grace even need a sitter?”
“It’s one of the rules her dad had for her…she couldn’t be home alone until she was at least sixteen,” I said, sliding a glance to the picture of Stefan on the wall.
“But he’s…” she started and then stopped.
“Yes, he passed away six years ago, but he is still her Dad and those are still the rules,” I explained in a monotone to Casey just as I had explained to Hayden Grace whenever she argued with me.
“Ok, I’ll see you Friday,” she said and bounded out the door. I closed the door making sure to lock it and turned off the front lights; I could see the snow flurries starting to come down faster as they accumulated on the ground. I sighed with relief knowing that Casey lived just next door, and I didn’t have to worry about her driving in the snow. Molly, who had been following me around since I got home, followed me back up the stairs to Hayden Grace’s room. I could still hear the music through the door, but it wasn’t as loud as it was earlier; I knocked gently getting no response.
“I’m going in,” I whispered to Molly, opening the door. Molly whined and lay down in the hallway.
“Coward,” I said to her as I entered Hayden Grace’s room. Pausing at the door, I glanced around the room; the walls were still sky blue and had been since the day she was born—it was the color her dad picked for her. I can remember sitting in the corner seven months pregnant with Hayden Grace as he painted the whole room; I had offered my help, but he had refused. He later told me that the color reminded him of the bright blue sky he had seen so many times while sitting on the top of a mountain before he rode down. He thought it was the best view in the whole world. Hayden Grace had started talking about repainting the room before Stefan died, but afterwards she no longer had any interest in changing it. I smiled to myself thinking how funny it was that something so mundane could evoke so many memories. Her walls were still blue, but they were now covered in posters of snowboarding legends suspended in some gravity-defying trick and famous mountain peaks showing staggering heights covered in glistening white snow. Directly above her bed hung her dad’s old Burton snowboard, covered in stickers from various mountains he had ridden; it was her prized possession, and she was pretty protective over it. I had once taken it down to wipe the dust down, and she stopped speaking to me for a week.
Her desk was cluttered with papers, books and more pamphlets for the Killington Mountain School she was always pestering me about. Her floor was in a state of chaos with dirty and clean clothes and all her snowboarding gear scattered at random. Sighing to myself, I saw that she was fast asleep in bed with her school books laid out all around her. I shook my head and carefully made my way over to her iPod and turned off the music. Collecting all the books off the bed, I piled them neatly on top of her desk. Looking for her phone, I spotted it barely sticking out from under her pillow. Pulling it out, I took a moment and flipped through her texts, Twitter, e-mail and Facebook. It looked like Hayden Grace’s best friend, Madison, was having some boy issues with a guy named Preston. From the picture Madison had sent he looked like the typical fifteen-year-old boy with long shaggy hair, baggy clothes and too much false confidence. Lucie, Hayden Grace’s other best friend, missed practice with the stomach bug and was lamenting about the competition on Saturday as well as the geometry test they had on Thursday. Finally, it looked like her snowboarding Coach, Ronald Davis, or #Coach as it was programmed in her phone, was impressed with her half pipe performance today. Satisfied that she continued to behave as every other teenager on the planet I slipped the phone into the pocket of my dress. She knew better than to take it to bed with her; I made a mental note to remind her again about the rules. As I picked up the comforter off of the floor to cover her up, she shifted slightly in her sleep.
“Love you Hayden Grace,” I whispered, kissing her forehead.
“Love you too, Mom,” she mumbled back. They were the best words in the whole world and never failed to bring a smile to my face. Leaving her room, Molly and I headed to the kitchen where I plugged her phone into the charging dock next to my own. After doing the dishes, folding the clothes in the dryer and then moving the clothes from the washer to the dryer, Molly and I finally headed to the back to my bedroom. Once there Molly quickly jumped up into bed to claim her side, I swear she was snoring before I even made it into the bathroom. I undressed, washed my face and brushed my teeth before curling up in bed
on my designated side. Remembering my morning meeting in Boston at nine, I set my alarm clock for five a.m. and collapsed into bed.