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"It's snowing!" Isabella crowed as the flight from Phoenix landed in Denver. "Look at the roof of the terminal. It's like snow-capped mountains. How totally cool!"
Norah Wallace could not help smiling. Was it just a mere forty-eight hours earlier that her thirteen-year-old daughter was fighting the very idea of a trip to Wisconsin to visit her grandparents for Thanksgiving? Obviously she'd changed her mind, but Norah was quickly learning not to spend too much time questioning the logic of teenagers.
While Isabella reveled in the sight of the unique fabric tension roof of the terminal, Norah noticed snow falling in huge flakes that covered everythingincluding the runwayin a duvet of white. "Hopefully it won't delay our connection to Chicago," Norah said.
"Oh, Mom, you worry about the weirdest things. What could be so bad about getting stuck in Colorado? We could go skiing."
"No one is going skiingat least not in Colorado,"
Norah said. "And I don't worry about everything. I just want things to go smoothly." She felt the familiar twinge of guilt that came with her impatience and covered it by rummaging through her carry-on. Did her daughter think she wanted to be the one always throwing cold water on Izzy's flights of fancy? No. But she was raising Izzy on her ownwell, not on her own. Her father Norah's exwas still very involved. But Izzy lived with her in Arizona, not with Tom in California.
She checked their schedule. "We have an hour layover here and it looks like our connecting flight is in the same concourse, so we should have time for something to eat." It was an attempt at conciliation, but Izzy was slumped down in the seat, staring out the window.
"Whatever," she muttered.
The minute the flight attendant announced permission to use cell phones, Isabella went to work. Norah marveled at the way her daughter's thumbs danced on the keypad as the plane taxied to a gate. Everyone scrambled to gather belongings as if life itself depended on their quick exit from the plane. She stood in the aisle and watched Izzy transcribe messages to all her friends. Norah could barely manage e-mail. How did these kids learn these technically complicated things so quickly?
When their turn came to exit, Izzy dropped her phone in her pocket and hefted her backpack over one shoulder as they entered the concourse and joined throngs of other travelers making their way to and from restrooms, shops and gates. Norah couldn't help noticing that Izzy seemed to be looking for something and took some comfort in the fact that her daughter's annoyance was short-lived. But then as usual Izzy threw her a curve-ball she wasn't prepared for.
"Are you ever sorry you divorced Dad?" Isabella asked as they wove their way through crowds of passengers and dodged electric carts.
"First of all, the decision was mutual," Norah replied, fighting her natural instinct to remind Izzy an airport was neither the time nor place for this discussion.
"And second of all?" Isabella asked.
"Oh honey, you know the story. We each wanted different things." Quell the impatience, she reminded herself. She draped her free arm over Izzy's bony shoulders. "Well, actually we wanted the same thingto make sure you had the best possible life."
"So how come the two of you couldn't figure it out together?"
"Timingmeant to be." Norah tossed off clichés as she searched for an answer that would end the conversation. The older Isabella got, the harder that challenge became.
"Yeah, so Dad took off for San Francisco like opening a branch law office there was a good idea or something," Isabella said wearily, "and you stayed in the desert because working on the reservation was somehow so important." She frowned. "So will one of you please explain how doing what you wanted was best for me?"
"Trust me. It was. We've remained friendsyour father and Inot like some couples."
"Friends see each other now and then. When's the last time you actually saw Daddy? Not talked on the phone, but were face-to-face?"
"It just hasn'tthat is" Norah stumbled for words. Five years ago. She considered whether or not to tell Izzy that she remembered the exact moment she'd last seen Tom. He'd been walking away from her to get in a cab and head for California.
"Oohsoft pretzels." And Izzy was off. Obviously the moment had passed.
"For lunch?" Norah shifted her bag and hurried after her daughter.
"Mother! We're on holiday. Live a little," Isabella said hooking her arm through Norah's and steering her toward the pretzel stand.
As soon as his plane touched down in Denver, Tom called Isabella's cell phone. He wanted to be sure she'd let Norah know he was going to Normal for the holiday. Voice mail. Knowing his daughter, she had forgotten so just to be sure Norah got the message, Tom decided to call the house in Arizona.
He waited for the beep of the old-fashioned answering machine Norah still used even though Isabella had tried to persuade her that voice mail was ever so much more efficient. "But we have the machine and it's paid for," Norah had explained according to Izzy, "so why would I incur a monthly expense to switch to voice mail?"
Tom smiled as he recalled Bella's growl of frustration at her mother's well-known practicality and maddening logic. For his part he had always admired Norah's determination not to jump on the technology bandwagon, although he couldn't help believing that as time went by and technology continued to advance, it was at least partly her stubbornness that had made her avoid such conveniences. Norah could be very stubborn.
"Norah?" he said when he realized the beep had sounded. "Tom here." Like she wouldn't recognize your voice? "In case Bella forgot to pass the message, just letting you knowwell, Clare called and you know my
sister. She had this brainstorm for us to celebrate Mom and Dad's fiftieth this weekend instead of for their actual anniversary in January, so I'll be in Wisconsin if you need to reach me. I'll be back late Sunday night. Bella was a little vague on your plans for the holiday, but I hope it's a good one." As always when he left messages for her, he paused. It seemed as if he wanted to say something more, but in five years he had not been able to figure out what. "Bye," he added quickly and hung up.
He picked up messages his assistant had left him as he walked to his connecting gate, then called back to answer her questions. The plane from California had spent several precious minutes circling the airport and now he just hoped he wouldn't miss the flight to Chicago.
As he hung up, the gate was in sight and packed with people waiting. He scanned the rows of chairs for a place to drop his luggage and spotted an empty one right next to a girl waving wildly at him.
Bella? Here? In Denver?
"Dad!" Isabella stood on the chair. "Dad! Over here."
Tom eased his way through the disorganized parade of people, his smile meeting Isabella's while his eyes searched for Norah.
"Dad," Isabella cried for the third time as she catapulted her way into his arms. "Surprise! How cool is this?"
Tom laughed and eased his daughter back to a standing position. "What are you doing here?" He glanced around again. "Where's your mother?"
"Bathroom. She is going to seriously freak," Isabella predicted.
"Where are you two headed?" Tom was pretty sure he knew. Norah rarely took time off and when she did, it was to go to Wisconsin to see her parents.
"To see the grands." The response was muffled and Isabella was looking somewhere over his left shoulder.
"Bella, you didn't tell your mom that I was also going to Normal?"
Isabella had the good sense to look slightly abashed. "I kind of forgot."
Tom raised his eyebrows.
"Look at it this waynow we can all celebrate Thanksgiving and the anniversary together. How cool is that?"
"What do you think your mom will have to say about this?"
Isabella's expression tightened and she sighed dramatically. "Did it ever occur to you guys that the longer you keep up this thing of never seeing each other like up close and personal, the harder it's going to be when it actually happens?"
Tom considered the best response to that, but Isabella was on a roll.
"I mean the very fact that neither one of you has found someone new should prove something," she added. "Like maybe splitting up was a mistake of astronomical proportions?"
"I thought you said your mom was dating."
"Well, she didn't join a convent after you two split, Dad." Isabella rolled her eyes at him. "And you haven't exactly been without your share of female companionship. What was the last one's name? Tabitha?" she added.
"Tamara," he corrected, "and she wasis a business associate."
"Whatever. She's a lot younger than you. What was that about?"
"We work together on various projects. Her age has nothing to do with it."
Isabella's smirk said she was not convinced. "You want to know what I think?"
"Why do I feel you're going to tell me whether I want to know or not?"
"I think that you and mom both miss each other, but you're both too stubborn to admit it and try again. That's why you've spent the last five years finding ways not to see each other."
"Bella, it's been a long time," Tom explained, hating the fact that he was throwing cold water on her hope for a reconciliation. "We're different people now."
"Ya think?" she said with a dramatic sigh as if grown-ups were just dumber than dirt. "Okay. I didn't forget," she admitted, casting her eyes heavenward. "Forgive me," she whispered, then turned her attention back to her father.
On the occasion of her twelfth birthday Isabella had joined the church and her passion for her faith had blossomed from there. She sang in the youth choir, provided child care for toddlers for church events and was very active in the social action committee of her youth group.
"I'm surprised at you, Isabella," Tom said now. "I thought it was important to you to abide by the rules of your faith."
"Our faith, Dad. You used to belong to the same church and Mom still does."
"You know what I'm saying. How could you lie to your mother?"
"I didn't," she protested. "Not really."
"A lie of omission is still a lie," Tom reminded her.
Bella sighed and slumped back in her chair. "But where's the harm? I mean, how cool is it going to be to surprise Mom with the fact that we're all going to Normal
together? Even I never imagined we'd actually be able to hook up herethough I have to admit I hoped we might."
"As I recall, your mom is not overly fond of surprises," Tom reminded her as he set his carry-on and computer bag on the small table next to her chair and tried to figure out the next steps in the farce his only child had created.
Isabella blinked. "Yeah, well Too late nowshe'll be back any minute." She eyed Tom warily. "Are you going to like disappear?"
"No, I'm here. You're here. Let's see how it goes."
Isabella grinned and stood up to clear a chair for him. "Okay, so come over here and sit down," she instructed. "Have you got something to read? No, better yet, open your computerthat's good." Isabella danced around him choreographing the surprise for Norah. "Here she comes," she whispered and giggled as she buried her face in a fashion magazine.
Norah was still several yards away, but he instantly picked her out of the masses and time reversed as he recalled the moment he'd realized he was in love with her. She had been a high school junior and he was a senior. She had lived just down the block from him her entire life. They had waited together at the same bus stop, attended the same church, seen each other countless times in all seasons because their parents were the best of friends. And yet, had he ever really looked at her until that winter's day when he stood shivering next to his broken-down car waiting for his dad to come and rescue him?
She'd been with a gang of her girlfriends, laughing and gabbing the way teenaged girls did, when one of them had spotted him. That girl had nudged Norah and
nodded in his direction. Norah had peeled away from the others and headed his way.
"Problem?" The way she said it he thought she was getting a kick out his misery.
"Not if you've got a set of jumper cables in your backpack," he fired back.
Her eyes had widened in surprise. "You don't have jumper cables?"
Tom had seen no reason to respond to the obvious. Instead of moving on, she had leaned against the car with him. "Want me to call my dad?"
"Well, no need to be rude," she'd muttered, then, "Oh, you called your dad."
His father had pulled up then and produced the necessary cables to jump-start Tom's car. "You okay from here?" he asked when the car fired and continued to idle. "I have to get back to work."
"Yeah. Thanks, Pop."
Norah had still been standing there after his dad drove away. "You need a ride or something?"
"Are you going home?"
Tom had sighed. "No, I thought as long as I got the thing running I'd take a drive to California. Yes, I'm going home. Get in."
She had and then just after he'd pulled into traffic, she started laughing. This girl was laughing at Tom Wallacestudent council president, varsity quarterback, on his way to university. "What?" he'd barked.
"Your ears are like Rudolph's nose," she'd managed. "I mean they are seriously red. They have these things now called hats, you know."
He'd glanced at himself in the rearview mirror. She
had a point. He found himself grinning and then they were both laughing.
"Here," she said and pulled off her own knit stocking cap and pulled it over his hair and ears. Her warmth was still there in the yarn.
He'd dropped her off at her house, handed her back her hat and asked if she had a date for the winter dance. And she had answered by asking a question of her own. "Are you asking me to go with you?"
"Then ask," she'd said.
That was Norahstraightforward, self-confident, and sometimes too sure that she was in the right. Like when she refused to even consider the move to San Francisco.
"She's coming," Bella hissed. "Look busy."
Over the open cover of his computer, Tom watched Norah approach. Five years. Suddenly it seemed like forever. What would he say to her after so much time? It wasn't as if they hadn't spoken. The one thing they had both agreed upon was that Izzy's welfare and happiness came before any conflict or battle scars they might have with each other. But what to say face-to-face?
It had been so long since he had seen her and yet he would have recognized that graceful walk anywhere. The smile given so freely to total strangers. It suddenly struck him how much he had missed that smile. It had been hard to come by as their marriage had crumbled. Not that he had been giving her his best either. He'd been angry and hurt and looking hard for somewhere to lay the blame and guilt he felt creeping over him. He felt a little of it now, but maturity made him recognize it for what it was. Trying to make the fact they hadn't seen each other for five long years her fault.