I parked the car in the visitor’s lot and trudged to the overheated lobby reeking of stale food and ammonia. The elderly living facility reminded me Mom was no longer her vibrant self. With both girls in college this fall, instead of Saturdays at swim meets or gymnastics, I was ferrying Mom to the store and balancing her checkbook. Not exactly the free and easy life without kids. I buzzed mom’s apartment. The steel door clicked open.
Mom stood there, her face alight. “Caroline, I’m so glad you came on my special day.”
“What day is that?”
“It’s my birthday. I turn 100 today.”
“But, Mom, your birthday’s in June. You’ll only be 85.”
She gaily shook her head. ”No matter. I’ll turn 100 someday. We may as well celebrate today. I might not be around if we wait too long.”
I sighed. No sense in arguing. If she wants to be 100, what’s the harm?
Mom dressed in a pastel blue cardigan and a matching flower-print skirt, her silver hair softly framing her face. Lipstick smeared in approximation; blue eye shadow outlined only one eye.
“Guess who moved in down the hall? Philip Sanders’ mother, Rose. Do you remember him from high school?”
Did I remember Phil Sanders? Handsome, popular and smart. Who could forget his dreamy smile? That lock of blond hair that always fell into his eyes? The Cool Guy to my Brainiac. Phil always laughed at my jokes. A good sign until prom time came and he asked Joyce Lindert, Miss Popularity, not me.
“Of course, Caroline Samuels, Phil Sanders. Our lockers were next to each other’s.”
“She fell and broke her hip. The doctor said she couldn’t go back home alone. I invited her to my party, too.”
“That’s nice. We’d better get to the store. Do you have a list?”
“Drat. I know it’s here somewhere. I promised Rose I’d pick up some milk for her. Can you run it over?”
“No problem. Let’s skip the list?”
“Just as long as we remember champagne.”
Mom told the bakery girl, the produce man, and the check out clerk, “I’m one hundred today!” Their reply, “You sure don’t look it,” made her beam. We picked up TWO bottles of champagne. I hoped this was enough, because I had no idea who she’d invited. The entire assisted living complex could show up at her door!
As I arranged a cheese tray, she insisted, “Put some make up on. You look like you came from housekeeping.”
“It’s your party, not mine.”
“ I want to show off my beautiful daughter.”
I touched up my lipstick and dabbed on blush, as I grumbled, “This is as good as it gets.” When I came out of the bathroom, Mom handed me the milk, “For Rose. Two doors down.”
A demure grey-haired lady with a walker answered my knock. “Caroline, your mother told me you’re a guidance counselor at the middle school. Two daughters in college. I’m so sorry about your divorce.”
I hoped Mom didn’t blab I buy cotton panties and size 34 D bras!
“I’m pleased to meet you. I knew your son in high school.”
“ Yes, Philip mentioned you. “
“Should I put this in your fridge?” I held up the milk.
“Thank you. I have something for your mother’s party in the kitchen. A Nesco roaster, but it’s rather heavy.” She shuffled ahead. “Too heavy for your mother, but Phil can carry over.”
OMG! Sitting at the kitchen table, calmly sipping coffee, was Phil in the flesh. The unruly hair had receded but the grin was still irresistible.
“Hi Caroline. Been a long time.”
“Thirty-two years, but who’s counting?” I stammered, ducking in the refrigerator, hiding a blush.
“You weren’t at the class reunion. I was hoping to catch up. We saw each other daily in high school.”
“Only because I needed to get my books,” His eyes made my pulse speed up, despite the crinkles.
“Sorry. I did infringe on your space. When you packed up, I never knew what you’d say.”
“ I did prattle on.”
“No, you were sorta cute and funny. The smartest girl, class valedictorian.”
Phil’s mom interrupted. “Here’s the roaster.” I looked at the huge box. What on earth was Mom planning to cook—a roast pig? A cow?
Phil lifted the box, muscles surging beneath his shirt. I wondered how those arms would feel around me. For God’s sake, I wasn’t a schoolgirl! I’ve muffin top spilling over my jeans. Maybe when he sees my boobs… Stop it! He’s carrying the Nesco into Mom’s kitchen, not the bedroom.
Scampering ahead, I opened Mom’s door. The scent of soap and citrus as he swept past unleashed memories of firm skin against mine. I had to lean against the frame and take a few deep breaths.
“You want it in here, Mrs. Samuels?” Phil pushed into the kitchen. “Mrs. Samuels? Where should I put it?”
Silence. I stood in the entry, wondering why she wasn’t answering. Was she touching up her make-up?
“Mom, here’s the Nesco. What are you planning to cook?” I searched the bathroom. Not there.
More silence. Panicked, I envisioned a blue-flowered body stretched on the floor, pink fuzzy slippers pointing to the ceiling. “Mom! Are you all right?” I hustled into her bedroom… Empty.
Then Phil called from the kitchen. “Caroline, come here. You’ve got to see this!”
I dashed into the kitchen, unsure of what I’d find. Phil grinned as he gestured toward the table. On white linen stood the champagne with two crystal glasses and a note with mom’s spidery handwriting: Please celebrate without me.
“Two elderly Cupids are meddling in our affairs,” Phil said as he popped the cork on the champagne and poured. “My divorce became final last month.”
“I’d hate to disappoint a hundred-year old woman,” I said as I lifted my glass. “She may not have too many surprises left.”
He smiled. “You better hang on to that Nesco--for future celebrations.”