“I can’t wait for you to meet Jim,” Ruthanne said, “He’s the sweetest man.” She paused. “In fact, honey, I know you just got here and I promise we’ll spend your birthday tomorrow doing whatever you want, just the two of us, but would you mind if we stopped by Jim’s this evening?”
“Tonight?” Alice said. She had been hoping it would be just the two of them. She wanted to talk about Troy and their wedding plans.
“Please Sweetie?” Ruthanne begged, “Jim’s daughter is visiting and frankly I think Jim is a little afraid of her. It was an ugly divorce and I think Isabelle blames him. That’s the daughter. Please?”
“OK,” Alice said. She would try to be generous to the man who had made her mother so happy.
On the drive to Jim’s house, the two made a plan to go wedding dress shopping the next afternoon.
They pulled up to a small green house on a well cared for lot. There was a black sports car parked in the driveway that looked very out of place in the modest neighborhood. There was a license plate cover on the car. “She who must be obeyed,” it declared. Oh boy, thought Alice.
Jim answered the door. He was a balding, kind-looking man, but he also looked a little harried and incredibly relieved to see them. He gave Ruthanne a quick hug and kiss and extended his hand to Alice.
“I’m so glad to meet you,” he said. “Your mother has told me wonderful things about you.”
Alice instantly liked Jim. How could she not?
“Dad?” a voice called from inside the house, “You don’t have any mineral water?” Jim gave Ruthanne a worried look. She smiled and patted his hand.
“Introduce us to your daughter,” she said.
They followed Jim through a narrow hallway to a small tidy kitchen. A slender woman dressed all in black was leaning into the open refrigerator. She stood up and gave them a forced smile. “I’m Bella,” she said.
“Hello, I’m Ruthanne.” Ruthanne extended her hand and was met with a halfhearted handshake and a furtive up and down glance.
Alice took in her mother’s slacks and cardigan and the look of disdain on Isabelle’s face and felt defensive and indignant. Was it too late for them to escape?
But she saw the companionable comfortable connection her mother and Jim shared. She forced a smile and introduced herself as well.
Later they were seated around Jim’s sparsely furnished living room, holding glasses filled with humble tap water.
“It’s nice you could visit your father,” Ruthanne said, smiling at Isabelle.
“Yeah,” she said, “I’m only here looking for an apartment. I got a job in the city and I need to find a place.”
“Well it’s nice your dad lives here too.”
“Yeah,” Isabelle said. There was nothing about her tone or demeanor that suggested she thought it was nice.
“So what do you have planned for tomorrow?” Jim asked Ruthanne.
“We’re going wedding dress shopping!” Ruthanne’s face lit up and she told Jim about the wonderful coincidence that they both needed wedding dresses. Alice grinned. It was nice to see her mother happy.
“How lovely,” Jim said, “I wonder if…do you think that…Isabelle could join you? Would you like that Isabelle?”
They all looked at Isabelle. She was thumbing through a magazine and looking bored. “Whatever,” she said. “I’ve found my apartment but my flight isn’t until tomorrow evening.”
Alice’s heart sank. This was not what she’d had in mind at all. Tomorrow was her birthday! She’d come home to visit her mother and talk about her wedding and make plans, not to spend time with a perfect stranger who was unfriendly. Then she saw the look of desperation and pleading on Jim’s face and that it was mirrored on her mother’s face as she looked at Alice. She could do this for her mother. And for the man her mother loved. She was twenty-five tomorrow. She was too old to pout or to be selfish.
Check back tomorrow for more of the story!