Forty-Five feet of Newmar Luxury, deep, white leather and every mod-con known to man no longer pleased her. Every state park west of Kansas, the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, a lengthy tour of the Napa Valley and a brief excursion up to discover the wonders of Vancouver Island during the summer had not allayed her homesickness. Here, parked up in Yellowstone, MaryAnn could only think of home.
Rediscovering the joys of marriage in her fifty-seventh year had been an unexpectedly delightful phase of their year-long road trip, but she had to be honest: A king sized bed, fully operational shower and wood panelled privacy was only as private as her neighbour’s hook ups and the success of their hearing aids.
James Senior was not, in any aspect of his life, a quiet man. Between the broad, knowing winks of her male neighbours and the pinched lips of their wives, MaryAnn decided that this autumnal honeymoon needed to draw itself to an exhausted close, drop its leaves and limp into hibernation for a mercifully protracted winter.
Sadly, her personal winter still looked to be a long way off.
James Senior reclined in a deck chair sipping his glass of iced tea. He was fresh from a morning hike, a solid, fit man of sixty who, if anything, had got younger in retirement. MaryAnn wondered idly how that could be possible, since she herself felt worn out and sleep deprived, older than her years, and ready for a nap. Catching her eye, James gave her a bold wink and wiggled his eyebrows, grinning when she both blushed and frowned at the same time.
“Behave yourself, James,” she scolded, bending over to clear away the lunch plates, an act that earned her a hand sliding boldly up the back of her leg. She heaved a sigh. “Oh Lord, how I long for the Viagra days…”
James threw back his head and roared with laughter, drawing attention from the cluster of OAP’s lunching under the awning next door. One of them raised his lemonade in silent salute.
MaryAnn groaned inwardly and felt a sharp pang for the wheat harvest back home in Amos, when James Senior dropped into bed after 14-hour days and slept like the dead. A tired husband, MaryAnn decided, was a good husband.
She had just finished carting the dishes to the sink when her cell phone began buzzing, skittering sideways on the breakfast bar, and a slightly blurry photo of her moon-faced son flashed up on the screen.
Thrilled both to hear from him and to have effectively dodged his father, for the moment at least, MaryAnn answered with a bright smile. “Jimbo!” she cried.
“H-hey Momma,” he answered, and in those two words his mother knew instantly that something was amiss. Not that she was surprised by that – Jimmy had failed to answer all phone calls for the past six months, communicating only through the briefest of emails and text messages. She knew Jimmy was alive, the farm was still running and nothing had burned to the ground, the crop had been successful, and there was still money in the bank… but that was precisely all she knew. Worried though she had been, James Senior had been insistent: They would NOT cut their travels short and they would NOT worry about a 30-year-old man who was perfectly capable of living his own life.
“Let him be, woman,” James said. “You’ll coddle him to death with all your fussing. It’s just not healthy.”
MaryAnn sniffed primly. “Once a Momma, always a Momma, James. It’s just how it is.”
“You already have a man to look after, honey. Let him be…”
And so she had.
“Oh, Jimbo, it’s so good to hear from you – James! It’s Jimmy…” James ducked through the doorway, leaning against the frame and eavesdropping, a wide smile on his face. “How have you been? What’s been happening? It’s been so long since we talked!”
Jimmy cleared his throat on the other end of the line. “Uh, yeah,” he mumbled. “It’s been a little while.”
“Whaddya mean a little while? It’s been forever! Are you ok?”
“Oh, yeah – I’m fine, Momma. I just… I… uh, have some news…”
MaryAnn felt a little thrill of surprise. He sounded serious. “Well, spit it out, honey! Here, I’ll put you on speaker -”
“Uhhh… it’s just…”
MaryAnn laid the phone back down on the counter and motioned James Senior to join them.
“I’ve met someone,” he said.
“You got a girl?” his mother cried, “Oh Jimmy… that’s… that’s wonderful news!”
“Can’t wait to meet her,” said James Senior.
“Where did you meet? Do we know her? Where’s she from?
“Momma… Dad -” Jimmy paused a beat too long for comfortable. He took a deep breath and pressed ahead. “I got married.”
“Oh!” MaryAnn replied. “Oh…” Married. Married! Not trusting her knees, She slid onto a barstool and clutched the edge of the breakfast bar for dear life. She did not know what to say.
“Married.” James Senior gritted. He laid his arm around his wife’s shoulders and gave her a light squeeze. “You got married, and you didn’t think to tell us?”
MaryAnn stared at her white fingertips for a long time before closing her eyes on the tears that had welled up. In her whole life, all she had ever wanted for Jimmy was for him to find a nice girl, get married, settle down… And here he had gone and done it. Without her. Without his father.
“…married for a couple months now…”
There would be no white wedding in the church, no guests, no confetti and no first dance. No announcement in the paper or photos on display. MaryAnn’s lips twisted downward and she was overcome by a rush of self-pity.
Jimmy and his father continued to talk, but MaryAnn heard precious little of the conversation. Married. Eloped. In her mind, that only ever meant one thing.
“When’s the baby due?” she eventually blurt out, cutting across the unheard conversation. Her question was met with a brief, shocked silence.
“Oh! She’s not… I mean, we’re not… we’re not expecting. At least, I don’t think we are…”
There was no baby. That was something anyway. MaryAnn exhaled slowly, realizing suddenly that she had been holding her breath.
“But you’re going to love her, Momma,” Jimmy said, though both he and his mother knew this was quite possibly a lie. Still, Jimmy pushed on. “Her name’s Anita. She’s from the Philippines…”
From the Philippines. As in not from Kansas. As in marrying her Jimmy to gain free entrance to the good old US of A.
“…she is the most amazing cook…”
MaryAnn Krause scowled as she did the mental math on this little romance. She didn’t care how well that woman cooked. She had an immediate vision of a black-haired gold-digger burning incense and hanging strands of beads in every doorway, boiling pots of rice in her Corning Ware, stewing whole chickens, feet and all, in her Crock Pot and decided then and there that her road trip was over. James Senior could rot in Yellowstone if he didn’t want to come with her. If she had to walk all the way back to Kansas, by God, that was what she was going to do.
No woman was going to cook in her kitchen.
“Son,” she said, her voice as soft as steel, “I’m on my way home.”
She hung up the phone and turned to start packing up the RV. James Senior watched her folding and tidying things away, stomping her way around the RV, slamming doors, dry eyed and angry, and felt the first snowflakes begin to fall on his autumn honeymoon. Darned if it wasn’t going to be a long winter ahead.
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