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With one glance at my body in the bedroom mirror, my suspicions are confirmed. Everything has gone south--and I didn't make a reservation.
"Gordon!" I scream for my husband like a deprived woman at a sidewalk sale. "Come quick! I've been kidnapped!"
Without a moment to lose, I try to reverse the aging process by shooting determined arms into the air. I'm reaching for the ceiling as if my life depends on it, and jogging in place. Immediately thinking my waist needs it most of all, I clasp my fingers overhead and plunge sideways in one dramatic swoop. Denise Austin would be proud.
My husband dashes around the corner, heaving gulps of air, panic on his face. "Maggie, what the--"
Suddenly my hands wallop the side of Gordon's nightstand lamp and send it crashing against the wall, narrowly missing his head. The shade flies across the room, sparks scatter with bulb pieces, and the remains sizzle like a steak on the grill.
One look at Gordon's face, and I'm thinking my days of worrying about this age thing are over.
I may not live to see breakfast.
"I thought you screamed"--he's bending over now and gasping for breath--"that you were being kidnapped." Pulling a hand-kerchief from his pocket, he wipes his forehead. I feel bad that I've caused him to sweat when he's already dressed for work. He stuffs the hankie back in place. "Well?"
Okay, so my body wasn't kidnapped, but somehow this doesn't seem like the time to tell him that Grandma borrowed it. Can we say Freaky Friday moment here? I'm walking around in Grandma's skin, and somewhere in heaven Grandma is walking around in mine. No, that can't be right. Grandma now has a heavenly body, and I know my body is anything but heavenly.
I avoid the issue. "I'm sorry about the lamp, Gordon." We stoop down to pick up the broken pieces.
"That was a close one. If I didn't know better, I might think you were trying to get rid of me. What's going on, Maggie?"
Okay, I'm a klutz. So rub it in my face, why don't you. Next time, maybe I won't miss. Whoa, Maggie. Down, girl.
"I'm waiting." Gordon steps behind me, his heavy breathing sounding a lot like Darth Vader.
Scooping the last bit of bulb into the trash, I put the lamp back on the stand, hoping that if I stall long enough, he'll go away.
I take a deep breath and turn to him.
"Well, see, I ran into Debra Stiffler--or whatever her married name is now--at the store yesterday . . ."
"What does that have to do with you screaming? I thought you hurt yourself or someone was hurting you." He doesn't bother to hide his irritation.
"Okay, so sometimes I overreact." A fact he still struggles with after almost thirty years of marriage, I might add.
"Sometimes?" He's peering over his glasses the way he used to do to our kids, Heather and Nick, when they were in trouble.
"You ever heard of the 'Little Boy Who Cried Wolf'?"
With a lift of my chin, I walk over to the dresser, pick up my brush, and run it through my hair, all the while staring at Gordon through the mirror.
His breathing quiets and now his eyes turn soft as his reflection looks back at me. "Look, Maggie, you scared me, that's all." His Tommy scent soothes me. I put the brush down, and he wraps his arms around my waist. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I'm sorry, Gordon."
"Now, what about Debra whoever?" he asks, resting his chin on the top of my head.
"Stiffler. You remember her," I prompt, "the high-school cheerleader, homecoming queen, girl-that-every-guy-wanted-to-date, Debra Stiffler."
His face brightens. He lifts his head and stares at my reflection. "Oh, that Debra Stiffler."
I think I might have to hurt him.
"What is she doing in Charming? Indiana doesn't seem to fit her. Anyway, I thought she had moved to Colorado."
"Probably came home to visit her parents. Who knows?" My hand brushes the comment aside. "Anyway, we served on student council together for four years," I say, as if this should mean something to him.
"She married that football jock, Greg somebody, didn't she?"
"I don't remember who she married. Could we move on here?"
"That guy had an ego the size of Texas."
Staring at him a moment, I mentally shake myself. "Whatever. Look, Gordon, the point is--"
"Yeah?" He nuzzles his face in my neck. I have to wonder if he's paying attention.
"--I told her how good she looked, how great it was to see her, when it suddenly dawned on me that she didn't have a clue who I was." His breath is warm against my skin, and his whiskers tickle. At this point it becomes obvious to me that Gordon cannot nuzzle and listen at the same time, so I pull free from his grasp and turn around to face him.
"It's like this. I knew her at once with her upturned nose, crisp, snappy cheerleader walk, and size 6 body." Okay, so there's a bitter edge to my voice here. The only thing size 6 on me is my wedding ring.
I haven't been able to take it off in years.
"How could she not have recognized me, Gordon?"
"Honey, it has been, well--" I do not miss the fact that he backs away, slowly, "--over, um, thirty years," he says with great caution, as if we've had this discussion before. My eyebrow is raised, and he knows better than to finish.
"Have I changed that much?"
"You're beautiful as always, my love." And without so much as taking a breath, he adds, "How about some coffee?"
"Don't think I didn't notice how you changed the subject, Gordon Paul Hayden."
He winks, then darts down the hallway like a gangster in a getaway car, leaving me to the mercy of our mirror, which by now I'm thinking must have been previously owned by the wicked witch in Snow White.
Forcing myself to take another glimpse, it's as though I'm seeing myself for the first time in twenty--would you believe thirty?--years. Transfixed by the wrinkled, soon-to-be-fifty-year-old frowning back at me from the mirror, I pinch my cheeks to add some color. Pale and dry, my skin just sort of lies there like old leather. If I didn't smell coffee coming from the kitchen, I'd think I was dead.
Though not exactly homecoming queen material, I looked pretty good back in the day. Not that I want to be twenty again, but, well, being young has its merits.
My thoughts flit to Gordon's new paralegal who could pass for Paris Hilton's twin--maybe with a bit more meat on her bones. Maybe that's why I'm noticing the changes in me all of a sudden. Meeting her at our daughter Heather's wedding last weekend and then seeing Debra Stiffler at the store was obviously more than my sagging self could handle.
Daring another look at my reflection, I raise an eyebrow, suck my cheeks in with my teeth, and pull on a sexy look. With all the confidence of Pamela Anderson--well, her mother, anyway--I think to myself: Paris Paralegal can move those baby thighs right on over, 'cause a real woman is a-comin' through!
My husband enters the room again. "Are you okay?" he asks, looking at me strangely as he walks over to his dresser.
I let my cheeks fall back into place and sigh. "I'm fine," I say, thinking I'll break that mirror when he leaves.
Gordon continues to look at me for a moment, then shakes his head, shrugs, and roots around the top drawer for socks. I watch him through the mirror. What does he really think of me? He says all the right things, but what lurks in the hidden corners of his mind? When we gather for office parties, does he compare me to the younger women? Does he prefer their company to mine? Is that why he stays at work so late into the evenings?
Have I let myself go? There's no question that Gordon brightened at the memory of Debra Stiffler. Do I have that same effect on him?
A sock drops from his grasp, and he picks it up with his toes. What a guy. I call him Claw Foot. My toes just sort of stand there like chubby little soldiers, never really amounting to anything. Gordon, on the other hand, scrunches his toes together and, in one quick swoop, goes in for the kill. I tell you, the man is amazing.
I'm sure Gordon is surrounded by temptation. He is handsome, after all. True, his sandy-colored hair is starting to thin a bit, but his goatee makes up for it. All right, so there's a streak of gray in his facial hair, but men look more distinguished with gray. Why is that? I look at his body. The low-carb diet is kicking in big time, and his pounds are melting away as fast as my memory.
He puts on his socks and shoes, then turns to me. "Let's go have that coffee, Gorgeous."
I perk up. It doesn't matter if his glasses do need a change in prescription, he thinks I'm gorgeous. The thought warms me like an electric blanket--or is it just a hot flash?
Gordon walks over and pulls me into his arms. Sucking in my stomach, I throw out my chest. He looks down into my wrinkled face. "I love you," he says tenderly, and for that instant, all is right with my world.
"I love you too," I say, meaning it with my whole heart.
He releases his hold and walks out the door. Like a baby duck, I follow him into the kitchen where he pours the steaming brew into our cups.
"Here you go," he says in a chipper voice. He extends the mug toward me and all but skips to his chair.
How can anyone be that happy in the morning? Anytime for that matter? It isn't normal. I should have him committed.
Coffee in hand, I slip over to the sofa.
Gordon pulls open the newspaper and soon wanders into the world of finance. A place of fascination for lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors. A place of sheer boredom for me.
With a glance at the area around his chair, I'm reminded of Gordon's love for stacks. A stack of magazines, stack of laundry, stack of pancakes, it doesn't matter. He's into it. His desk at his office is the worst. He insists the stacks are organized, but when I go through them at home, I'm thinking there's no correlation whatsoever between bank brochures for home equity loans and low-carb candy wrappers. He must have struggled with that "Which one does not belong in this group?" question in school testing.
While I'm staring at his ever-growing stacks, Gordon starts to whistle. We're not talking a one-note deal, but a whole song, a Bing Crosby-type whistle--cheerful, carefree. He turns the page of his newspaper and peeks around the side to wink at me.
"Are you sure you're all right? I mean, you didn't hurt yourself when you were doing that Incredible Hulk thing in the bedroom, did you?" he asks with a grin.
"Oh, that's cute, Gordon."
I'm walking around with Grandma's body, our kids have moved out of the house, and he's okay with this? The man is clueless. Completely clueless.
"I'm just tired." I don't want to get into a big discussion over my self-worth. Who am I without the children? When did my body fall apart? It sounds petty even to my ears. Still, I can't help the way I feel.
He puts the paper down and smiles at me before he takes another drink of his coffee. Studying him, I wonder how he can just cruise through life without a care in the world.
He picks up his Bible, opens it, and reads our Scripture for the day, along with the devotional; then he prays. His words ride along the fringes of my consciousness as my mind wanders to my ever-changing body, our "empty nest," and Gordon's new paralegal.
I need to pull myself out of this mood. Maybe go shopping or call Lily. Lily Newgent is the kind of friend who listens to your problems and then offers a chocolate truffle.
No one could ask for a better friend than that.
I roll down my car window and allow the crisp, fall air to chase away my menopausal mood as I make my way to The New Brew, Charming's recently opened coffee shop. Along the way, several Amish buggies pass by, a sight I always enjoy.
By the time I arrive, I'm feeling pretty good. Warmth hits me the moment I enter The New Brew. Have I mentioned I'm into this whole coffee-shop thing? The scent of rich coffee beans, the whir of the cappuccino machine, the soft chatter coming from cozy tables where friends gather to talk about nothing in particular, there's nothing like it.
Standing in line at the counter, Lily sees me and waves. I walk over to her.
"Hi, Maggie." We hug like we haven't seen each other in years, but of course it's only been four days.
Lily is my best friend and has been since that fateful day in first grade when Ritchie Wallace stepped on Lily's yellow crayon and broke it. I could tell Lily was trying desperately not to cry, so I gave her my yellow crayon to make her feel better. We connected that day. She says only a kindred spirit would do such an unselfish thing. It's not like she had to know I don't like yellow.
"Hi, Lily. That's cute, is it new?" I point to her yellow knit top. It's still her favorite color.
She grins and nods. Even her bobbed hair is yellow--well, bottled yellow now, but it was a striking blond all on its own before her husband, Bob, died six years ago.
"May I help you?" the small voice behind the counter asks. I turn to the girl to place my order. She has dark, pixie-cut hair and droopy brown eyes, similar to Bambi's after his mother died; but what I struggle to get past is the silver ring in her nose. To keep from staring, I rummage through my purse for my coffee card. I'm almost sure I've already accumulated enough stamps to have a freebie coming this time.
"Yes, I'll take a hot, single-shot, tall, nonfat caramel latte with whipped cream, please," Lily says without skipping a beat.
I'm downright proud that Lily can remember a name that long. Every time she orders it, I think she's christening her drink. I stop rooting through my purse long enough to give her the respect she deserves.
My order sounds so plain next to hers. "Skinny mocha, please." It's the best I can do without ginkgo biloba. Resuming my search in the last pocket of my purse for the coffee card, I discover it's not there. I collect the receipts, gum wrappers, and eyebrow pencil shavings that have spilled onto the counter. Stuffing the papers back inside my bag, I smile at the cashier, whose name tag says "Jade."
She rings up the sale, stamps a new card, and gives it to me, then takes my five-dollar bill.
"Does that hurt?" I hear myself say.
She looks up in surprise. "What?"
I point to her nose.
"Oh, this?" She beams. "Nope. Isn't it cool?"
Cool? A ring in her nose? I want to say, "Maybe, if it's a tribal custom," but I don't. I lift a tentative smile. "With all these piercings nowadays, it's a wonder you kids don't leak when you drink water." Uh-oh, now I look and sound like Grandma, and it's scaring me. Not wanting to offend Jade, I give a generous laugh.
It takes a minute for her to digest my comment and then she laughs along.
My kids are gone a week, and already I'm disconnected from the younger generation.
She gives me my change, her hand hovering a little too long near the "Thanks a Latte" tip cup. Taking the change from her, I add two quarters to the cup, hoping all the while that I'm not contributing to another piercing.
The sun is streaming through the front window, and I want to sit at the table perched next to it. Unfortunately, it has a used cup and some coffee spills on it. Lily starts to move elsewhere.
"No, wait. I want to sit here. Be right back." Placing my drink on the table, I walk to the counter. "Hi, Jade," I say, like we're old friends now. "Could I have a cloth to clean that table?" I point toward where Lily is sitting.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she says. "I'll get right to it."
"You have customers. I'm glad to do it."
She shrugs and hands me the cloth. After cleaning the table, I return the cloth to the counter. Jade and I exchange a smile and then I walk back and settle into my chair by Lily. We talk about Heather's wedding, the ceremony, Heather's moving away. Gloom settles over me at the thought of my empty nest.
Lily picks up on my mood and stares at me. "You okay?"
"I'm having a pity party and can't seem to snap out of it."
Lily lifts the lid from her coffee, stirs the whipped cream into the hot liquid, and licks the coffee stick clean. "Someone once told me there are two things wrong with a pity party," she says as she snaps the lid back into place. "Number one, you're the only one invited. Number two, they don't serve refreshments."
I chuckle. "How did you get so wise?" No matter how dark my mood, Lily can always make me smile.
She shrugs. "You know, you should try some Siberian ginseng."
"Oh, here we go." I roll my eyes. "Dr. Lily has joined us once again." I grin and take a drink.
"Well, you can make fun all you want. Plenty of people ask my advice on such things." She hikes up her nose a bit.
Swallowing my chuckle, I put my cup down. "Okay, Lil, tell me about Siberian ginseng. Does it help with hot flashes?"
"You know, the Siberian part. Siberian, as in cold. Get it?"
She must not. She's not laughing. "It helps calm the changing moods," she says in her most professional, doctor's voice. A voice I'm sure she learned to emulate by watching ER reruns. "Why are you having mood swings?"
"I think it's my age, the kids leaving home, all that."
Lily looks a little perplexed. "You still have Nick at home--well, sort of."
"Not really. He is in college during the school year, then he travels in the summer with his singing group. We don't get to see him much."
"You know, maybe you just need something to do. Get a part-time job or volunteer for something," Lily says cheerfully.
"A job? Easy for you to say. Your mom told me you've been cutting hair since you were in second grade."
"It was my hair I cut at that age. She didn't bother to tell you that I made such a mess of things that she had to give me a perm to hide the uneven spots. I'll never forget it. All the boys in my class made fun of me when the teacher passed around our school pictures. Very traumatic," Lily says, shaking her head as though she means it.
All these years I've known Lily, and I didn't know that story. You think you know a person.
"At least you can do something, Lily. I haven't taught school since the kids were born. I'd probably have to take some classes before going back into teaching."
"Well, if you don't want to go to school, do something else. The possibilities are endless, Maggie." She drops her chin in her hand and stares at the ceiling. "Let's see, there's secretarial--"
"Hip expansion," I cut her off like I'm blazing a trail.
"You know, sitting all day? Hip expansion."
Not one to be easily deterred, Lily continues. "How about waitressing?"
She stares at me. "You're pathetic."
"I know." I drum my fingers on the table. "Hey, I've got it. How about you teach me how to do hair?" I like Lily's schedule; I'm thinking this could work.
She shakes her head. "I've seen how you do Crusher's hair," she says, referring to our Chihuahua.
"What? Crusher doesn't have any hair to speak of."
"Exactly." Her eyes sparkle with an ornery glint.
Lily taps her finger against her temple. "There must be something--" One look at my face and her enthusiasm fades. Now she gets it. I just need a pout fest, a pity party, a look-at-me-my-life-is-empty sympathy session. "Okay, maybe not."
"Have you noticed how much I've changed?" I ask abruptly.
She takes a drink, wipes her mouth with a napkin, and places her cup on the table. "How do you mean?"
"Well--" I glance around the room. There is no one over thirty. "I look"--My cheeks feel warm. I feel silly talking about it--"old."
Lily tries, but fails, to hide her amusement. "Oh, is that all? Good grief, Maggie, all of us look older. We're not twenty anymore. It happens." She takes another drink.
"But Debra Stiffler--"
"Oh, puh-lease!" She sets her cup back on the table with a thunk, causing some coffee to slosh out. "She's had more nips and tucks than a wedding dress passed down three generations." She wipes up the coffee with a napkin.
Okay, I'm liking this conversation. "Really?"
"Girl, if she were any tighter, she'd be a corset."
"Doggone it. If that's the case, I should have ordered a mocha with whole milk, slathered in whipped cream."
We look at each other and start laughing.
Lily looks me straight in the eyes. I laugh harder. Then all of a sudden my laughter turns to hiccupy sobs. You know how sometimes you're so emotional that when you laugh, you cry? Well, that's what happens here.
Lily laughs with me, then stops when she sees me crying. "Okay, you're scaring me."
A couple more chuckles and sobs, then I dab at my face with a napkin and blow my nose. "You know me, Lil. I cry at everything from greeting card commercials to Little House on the Prairie reruns."
Compassion fills her eyes. "Now, you listen to me, Margaret Lynn Hayden: you look wonderful. Do you hear me? You're being too hard on yourself."
I groan. "My mother named me after Princess Margaret. Did you know that?"
"Do you know how hard it is to live in the shadow of a princess?"
"Maggie, I'm named after a flower. Do you know how many people at church think they're so clever when they tell me to bloom where I'm planted? If I were a weed, I'd choke 'em."
We giggle again.
"I think you could pass for a princess," Lily says sweetly.
"More like the fairy godmother in Disney's version of Cinderella," I say, thinking: A princess is petite, graceful, and elegant. Remind you of anyone? Um, no.
"How about Gordon? Is he missing the kids too?"
"Humph. Gordon is too busy with legal work and the cars he tinkers with to notice that they're even gone."
"I think that's normal. Dads aren't hit nearly as hard by the empty nest. I think it's kind of cute. He's excited to have you to himself--but then Gordon has always been a romantic."
Lily's right. Gordon is a romantic.
I look at her hard, wondering why she doesn't seem to be dealing with all these issues. "Have you had any of these kinds of feelings, Lil?"
She shakes her head. "A few headaches here and there, but not much else. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms in menopause."
I nod, thinking I'll try Siberian ginseng or maybe see the doctor.
"You know, Maggie, these are the best years of our lives. We have a handle on what we want out of life, your kids are raised, and we're better off financially than we were at twenty. Come on, it's time to enjoy life, girlfriend." She smiles brightly.
"Easy for you to say, Miss I've-Only-Had-A-Few-Headaches," I say, trying to recapture my lighthearted self.
Lily giggles. "What can I say? I live right."
My mood shifts upward again, rising and falling like the ocean's tides. "Hey, want to go shopping? There's a new dress I want to try on at the boutique down the road."
Lily nods eagerly, and we finish our coffees. Tossing our cups, we wave good-bye to Jade and bop out of the shop with all the energy of a couple of overgrown kids.