by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
She felt uncomfortable and out of place. The girls around her seemed to be having a great time, and most of them were enjoying the DJ's choice of music. They tried to get her to join in, but she was self-conscious and sat down after the first dance. More than once someone at the table asked her if she was alright, and she said yes, but she obviously wasn't. She left the reception early after saying her goodbyes and wishing the happy couple well. She wondered if she would ever find someone who would accept her.
"How was the wedding?" Margot asked her son as he sat down for lunch. A weekly ritual, Bobby Manceau stopped by after church to visit his mother.
"It was nice. You would have liked it...very romantic." He poured himself some coffee and took a bite of rye toast. "I think the groom was actually crying more than the bride at one point. They really love each other Mom. I'm really happy for them...and no, I haven't found that "special someone," so don't ask." He teased. He and his mother had this dance they did periodically, where she would grill him about his "prospects." He had only been back from Iraq since March, and really hadn't re-established himself yet. After two tours, he was glad to be out, but he was proud of the work that he did while he was there. He had worked alongside the American and Iraqi doctors at the hospital in Basra, and was privileged to see the work they accomplished with the children. He had been three credits shy of MSW degree when his unit was called up, and he had enrolled at Temple for the last course, plus an astronomy course, just for fun. His job at Children's Hospital would start in two weeks, and he was anxious to get to work.
The girl looked in the mirror and was disappointed with her reflection. Up until recently, she worked where long hair wasn't permitted, and her hair hadn't even reached her collar yet. She looked at her body, and hated what she saw. Her frame, never big to begin with, was slighter due to the illness she had just before she returned home after her job ended, and she felt unattractive. Tears filled her eyes as she recalled the wedding last Saturday. Her two best friends had found each other while she was gone, and her only true love was one of the pair. She didn't feel betrayed; she had never told anyone of the love she held, and the secret died inside her when one friend married the other. Like the old expression, she could have "kicked herself" for keeping silent. She looked again at herself, wondering if she would ever find someone to love her like that.
"Hi, you must be Bobby Manceau, I'm Tina Soriano," the nurse said as Bobby entered the office. Tina had been working at the hospital only six months herself. Her mom, you may remember, works on the children's oncology unit and is friends with Linda and Danny and Alice and company.
"Hi, nice to meet you," Bobby said. He withheld his hand until Tina offered hers, remembering what his mother told him about shaking hands with a lady. After some introductions, Bobby spent the afternoon and evening working with two couples to help them get enrolled for resources and counseling regarding their kids. Oncology with kids was tough, because any death was "premature," and no parent should have to survive a child. There would be victories, to be sure, but they would be few and far between. Bobby felt ill-equipped to handle the burdens these families endured, especially when their hard work and efforts would be rewarded by huge medical bills and the death of their child.
"The trick is not to steel yourself, but let yourself go," Tina said. "I know it sounds crazy, but what these folks need more than anything is compassion. The doctors and nurses provide some of that along with the care, but what happens to these families when the care is over, and the child is sent home to die either a slow or quick death? Either way, they need someone who can help them as well as put them in touch with others like themselves. And it's okay to cry once and a while, but usually when you have a moment alone. You can show emotion when you help the families, but you have to keep it together. Too much, and you become too attached and involved to be of any help, and too little, and you become so detached that you forget just why you're here."
"I'll try to remember that. It sounds like you have it together." Bobby wasn't trying to be dismissive, but he was anxious for a variety of reasons, and he came off rather brusque. Tina, on the other hand, was used to it.
"Bobby," she said, "I cry every night when I go home, but most times without tears. And I decided long ago that there's someone much bigger than me that can handle all of this, so I talk to Him about my fears and sadness. It's really what keeps me going." Tina wasn't trying to preach, but Bobby needed to know the ropes, and Tina was showing him as best she knew how.
Bobby finished the evening helping a new family get connected with the few resources available for their medical expenses as well as help them get in touch with the support group. The hospital was helped by the teen volunteer group that visited the ward. The high-school program had expanded to three area high schools and one middle school, and the children had someone almost every day from three o'clock until seven thirty that would read and play and help the parents.
She stood in front of the mirror, fearing what she would once again see. She had only been exposed for a few moments, but the disease took its toll, and she was only now recovering. Her prognosis was excellent, but she was ravaged by another disease that continued to plague her. She looked at her reflection. Her favorite dress hung like a limp rag on her body, and she felt horrible. Her physical health had improved considerably, but the disease had left her in a deep depression that had hung on for almost a year. More than twice in the last six months, she thought about ending her life. Counseling helped somewhat, but her doctor had no experience with her ailment. The feelings of inadequacy and sadness never really went away, but she was at least able to function. All those songs your grandparents might have danced to about being lonely or "tears on my pillow," might have been funny to hear as a teenager, but horrible to live as she approached her twenty-sixth birthday. Working with the children was good in and of itself, and she learned to climb out of her depression long enough to help the families and children. But she still went home to an empty apartment. Her dog had died while she was away, adding to her sadness and loneliness. Her mother loved her, but felt that she just needed to "pick herself up and dust herself off," like the old saying goes. It was like being a pitcher in the World Series. Game seven; bases loaded and winning run on third base with nobody out. The pitching coach comes to the mound and all he can say is "Throw strikes."
She wanted to "pick herself up," but she had no clue how to do it, in spite of the help she was getting. Her company had offered little help for her depression, mistakenly thinking her illness arose from her job. When she worked for them, the job she did actually was rewarding and gave her purpose; she worked with children. But she and her employers weren't prepared for what happened when the children she worked with died, however. No cancer or childhood illness; her charges had their little bodies ripped apart by bombs set off by people they trusted; people who were supposed to care.
She went to bed every night sad and depressed, and the only respite for her own pain and loneliness came via the horrific nightmares she had about a little girl who was killed by someone who didn't care if she died as long as others did as well. You may recall the tales of weeping so hard as to be physically ill. She felt sick all the time, and had gone through three prescriptions for acid-blockers to deal with her ulcer. On the nights she was able to sleep, she cried herself to exhaustion over her own pain and sorrow. Hopelessness may be the worst thing anyone can go through, and she was drowning in it. But someone was about to throw her a life preserver.
Tina Soriano stood by the soda machine talking with her mother Nancy. Bobby came into the break room to get his lunch from the fridge. Tina grabbed his arm and said with a big smile,
"Mrs. Aquino says that you've caught on quickly; The Rodriguez family sent us a thank you card, and they especially wanted you to know how much your help meant to them." Bobby's eyes would have misted up at that point, but he was almost unable to cry anymore at that point. He ached inside for these little ones, desperately hoping for a least one miracle to be shared by the whole ward. Frankie Rodriguez was six, and thank God, his cancer was in remission. His outlook was "promising," as they say, which to most of us might not say much, but to his family, it spoke volumes.
Three other children had gone home, and it was not to school or games or pets or sisters or brothers. Bobby bit his tongue, wishing he could cry, as the pain was so intense when he thought of how much sadness these families endured. His own pain...that is to say, the pain he felt over his own circumstances diminished when he felt for the kids, and while it didn't change much on the outside, his own transformation had begun.
"I'm having some people over for dinner Thursday. I would really like it if you could come." Tina said as she leaned against the doorway, sipping her diet Pepsi. Bobby had no plans for Thursday..."Hell, I've got nothing planned for...like...forever," he thought to himself. He was normally very shy; his relationships usually ended when the girl discovered someone more attentive or animated or alive. Just regular everyday people you work with type of contact was something he could handle. He was about to find that he could handle much, much more.
"I don't want to scare you off, but it's sort of....like a...." Tina tried really hard, but she wasn't able to disguise her intent. "I invited two girls; Martina from day shift and my sister Alexis. Martina is bringing her boyfriend and my fiancé' is coming." As much as Bobby appreciated his Sunday lunch dates with his mother, they just didn't quite satisfy his need for socialization, so he said,
"Okay." Tina was a very pretty girl; she favored her mother Nancy, who was a nurse on the ward. How bad could Alexis be? He felt that she would be the one "stuck" for the evening.
Hopelessness can do that to someone. You might find yourself believing all sorts of untrue things about yourself when you haven't felt attractive or loveable. Even if you are loveable and are very loving, you may just feel like that.
The girl in the mirror looked so tired. The nightmares were almost relentless. Someone she knew recommended self-medication, but she didn't trust herself (wisely) enough to go that route. A friend recommended another counselor. She was worried that she might have to pay out of pocket since her old job didn't cover the expenses unless she went to their doctor. Her friend found out through an acquaintance that the counselor had reasonable rates. (The counselor's rates were highly reasonable; he didn't charge his patients.)
Ben Kelly sat at the receptionist desk in the office he had rented recently. The front door opened and Bobby walked in.
"And you must be Robert Manceau? Did I get that right?" The man sitting at the receptionist desk asked with a soft brogue. A bull terrier peeked out from behind the desk and wagged his tail.
"Yes, that's right. Dr. Kelly? You can call me Bobby." He looked at the dog again, and he could have sworn it was acting just like a cat.
Bobby stood in Tina’s kitchen, drinking coffee. The party was just about over, and people were saying goodbyes. Alexis Soriano moved up next to him and stood “perilously close,” as some might put it and began talking.
"I'm so glad you came, Bobby. You make a good partner in Trivial Pursuit," Alexis said as she rubbed his arm. She wasn't forward, per se, but she was rubbing his arm, after all, and Bobby felt uncomfortable, embarrassed, frightened (yes) and really good at the same time.
"I had a great time." That said a lot for him, because he rarely had good times, much less great ones. It didn't hurt that a pretty girl was friendly to him, but he nevertheless felt ill at ease from her attention, even if he didn't show it. He struggled through dinner because the food, while excellent, was very spicy, and his ulcer had been barking all through the meal.
Everyone was lining up at Tina's door, saying their goodbyes. Everyone except Bobby knew everyone else, and that would have been difficult enough, but the situation got much worse for him real quick when Alexis gave him more than a sisterly kiss goodbye on the cheek. He blushed quickly, and his embarrassment caused him to be more embarrassed, prompting an even more embarrassing response from Tina.
"I think Alexis likes you, Bobby." They didn't laugh; it wasn't intended to be funny. In fact, it was really a good thing for him to hear, even if he wasn't prepared to hear it. Then Alexis said,
"Yes, I think you are right, sister dear. Bobby, after all, is extremely likeable." She leaned into him and kissed his cheek once again before bounding down the front steps to catch up with Martina and her boyfriend, who drove her to Tina's place. Tina's fiancé' looked at Bobby and shrugged and said,
"Can't argue with that, dude."
"No, Manny, I don't think he can." Tina gave Bobby a more sisterly kiss than her sister and said,
"See you tomorrow, okay? Thanks for coming."
The dream, if it could be called that, was exactly the same as the previous night; it was always the same. The vision was vivid and all too real. She was standing in the plaza. The little girl was moving slowly, almost like a movie where the violence is slowed and shown up close for effect. The man was walking from the other side of the plaza, and had almost reached where the little girl had stopped to pick up a flower someone had dropped from the cart. She tried to move toward the girl, but her feet seemed stuck, almost as if she was shackled. The man reached into his jacket and in an instant, the girl, the man, and seven other people were gone. Just before she disappeared in the horrific blast, the girl had looked at her with pleading eyes...the same pleading eyes that visited her each night, begging for the deliverance that would never come. She watched as the girl's face changed; from the little girl in the plaza to the little boy in the bed; the little boy who went home that afternoon to be with his mommy and daddy when he died. She woke up at five seventeen with a bitter taste in her mouth. Bile mixed with blood as she vomited right where she lay in bed.
The girl had just gotten off the phone with her mother.
"No, mom, I haven’t found that special someone yet." Her mother teased her often about that, failing to see how painful those words actually were to her. She didn’t fault her mom; she meant well, but that didn’t take the sting out of her regrets and sadness. Her mother didn’t know that her only love married another since she never shared that secret. She looked at herself in the mirror. Something always felt odd when she was getting dressed and her mother called. It was like she had a "sixth sense,’ but really it was entirely coincidental. Nevertheless, she always felt uncomfortable and guilty at those times, as if she was doing something wrong, which she wasn’t. Her image was more attractive than usual, which made her only mostly, instead of entirely, disappointed with her reflection. She wanted to look pretty since she had made a new friend, and was hoping that her relationship would actually develop into something special, like her mother asked. She often closed her eyes after viewing herself in the mirror, feeling unattractive. Truth be told, she was entirely attractive, and if she were to ask her new friend, she might feel even better about herself. But today, in her own room, alone, she felt entirely unattractive and she wondered if she would ever find someone who accepted her. The phone rang once again, and she was glad for the interruption. Her mother, again; worrying about her. Mothers can tell, can’t they?
Bobby sat in the chair across from the couch where Ben and Rocco sat. Ben scratched Rocco’s right ear (his favorite) and asked,
"It sounds as if things have only gotten a little better, but I’m at least glad for that. How do you feel?" Ben looked at Bobby and then over to Rocco, who lay on the couch next to Bobby, gnawing on a rawhide bone. Bobby had been seeing Ben for about five weeks, and things had become somewhat promising.
"Dr. Stephano has me on a new anti-anxiety medication, and it doesn’t affect my digestive system the way the old meds did. I’m feeling less stressed, and I’m finding I can deal with work better.
"You said that your co-workers have been supportive. Has that helped at all with what you’re dealing with at the job?"
"Oh, God, it still hurts a lot to see the kids going through it all, but I guess…No, I know that Tina and Alexis have been praying for me, so that’s been a big help. And I don’t see "her" as much as usual. I’m able to see these kids separately, for who they are."
"You told me that the dreams seem less…vivid. Is that about right?"
"Yes. Last night, I had the dream again, but it was like I was watching it from "outside;" if that makes any sense."
"I think that you’re feeling less involved. Is that helping with the guilt you’ve been feeling? We talked about it, and you said you didn’t feel responsible for the little girl. Has that changed?
"I’m feeling less guilty, so I guess, yes. Dr. Kelly? When will these dreams end?" Bobby started to tear up, and wanted to hold back.
Ben reached over and handed Bobby the box of tissues and said, "I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for that, but I can assure you that God’s in control, either way, and he will see you through this." He wept, mostly out of frustration over Ben’s answer, but Bobby also wanted to talk about his other "problem." The only real "problem" was that he viewed it as a problem in the first place. Dr. Kelly wouldn’t be the one to help him in that regard, but he was about to rescued from his guilt and shame.
Bobby was just walking on the unit after talking with a couple from Ardmore. Things looked good for their little girl, but they were having a difficult time with the finances, so he had spent the afternoon looking up resources and making phone calls with little success. Tina grabbed his arm as he was passing by.
"I’m having a Halloween party, and you’re invited. Alexis is going to be there." Alexis was always there when Tina invited Bobby. She was becoming…distracting. Bobby hadn’t felt this way about a girl in a long time. He had dated a girl just before he was deployed for the first time, and in his absence, the girl had dated others at his insistence.
He didn’t anticipate that she would get engaged to his best friend, and she married the guy only a few months after Bobby’s return.
"It’s a theme party and I think you’ll get a kick out of it." Her tone and expression were almost conspiratorial, and he asked,
"And what would that theme be?"
"It’s a surprise. Just show up at Alexis apartment Saturday afternoon, and she’ll fill you in.
"What if I don’t like surprises?"
"Even if you don’t like surprises, I know you like Alexis." She grinned, and his face reddened.
Although the embarrassment was uncomfortable, his growing fondness for Alexis made his blushing less uncomfortable.
The girl’s health had improved remarkably since the doctor changed her meds, and she was less anxious. Her nightmares had abated, and she was feeling that her counselor was helping her see that her life was much more hopeful than she had ever dreamed. She still felt self-conscious, however, and she wondered if her friend would accept her entirely. Having support and encouragement was great, but she wondered if her friend wanted more of a relationship. She wanted to be loved and love again, and she was afraid to open up to her friend. Her heart had been broken already this year, and she felt she couldn’t bear it again.
"Come in." Alexis greeted Bobby at the door of her apartment. She didn’t appear ready to go anywhere, and Bobby thought that was odd.
"Now, don’t say anything….just close your eyes and come into the kitchen." Alexis took Bobby by the hand and led him into the kitchen, where she sat him down at the table. He felt something soft brush his face, and it felt strangely familiar. He flinched, but she said,
"Now, no peeking." She returned her attention to his face. He felt uncomfortable as the feelings grew more and more familiar.
"Ooh, this is turning out great," She actually giggled. Finally, he heard,
"Okay, open your eyes." Bobby opened his eyes slowly, and his worst fears came true as he looked straight ahead at the mirror Alexis held.
"It’s sorta like Sadie Hawkins. All the boys are going to be dressed as girls and vice versa. Isn’t that cool?" It was anything but cool. And it wasn’t just embarrassing or uncomfortable. For Bobby, it was downright shameful. He looked at his reflection and his reaction wasn’t angry; and the face before him wasn’t his. A young lady stared back at him, entirely too attractive, and all too vulnerable and feminine. And she was embarrassed despite the fact that she had never looked so good; ever. She would have felt better about herself apart from the fact that she had never been seen by another human being until tonight. Alexis looked at Bobby and was surprised when she saw tears in his eyes. He grabbed a towel that was draped over the back of the chair and began to wipe his face. Alexis would have tried to stop him but for his absolutely sad affect. He looked up at her as if to plead for forgiveness, but put hands over his face and wept.
"Sorry sis, but we’re not going to make it. I’ve got a migraine, so Bobby is sitting here in my kitchen brewing me some Sleepy Time," she lied. She turned back to Bobby, who had composed himself enough to move to the couch. She got him an ice pack. He had the migraine after crying on her couch for about a half-hour. Any other guy at any other time, and she would have shown the "wimp" the door. But Bobby wasn’t a wimp. He was a decorated veteran and a kind and caring man that she was highly attracted to. But what the hell was going on?
"Better?" She said as she held the ice pack to his forehead. He nodded, and she asked the next question with as much timidity and curiosity as can be mixed together in the same sentence.
"What’s wrong?" Like someone once wrote, it either demanded a quick answer or a very long one. He gave her the latter.
"I thought things would change when I enlisted. And they did for a while. Every once and a while, when I was alone, I’d think of ‘her." You’d think two tours in a combat zone would toughen me up, but no. I couldn’t stop thinking about…."
He stopped, and his eyes misted up. He would have stopped altogether except Alexis finished his sentence,
"Her…You….you couldn’t stop thinking about that part of you." She stroked his cheek and then started a sentence for him.
"She was stuck over here and you were over there." Bobby blinked in surprise. Alexis walked over to the entertainment center and brought back a picture of a very attractive woman. She showed it to Bobby.
"My cousin Nicky….. Absolutely gorgeous, and he’s married to a nice girl from Brooklyn." Alexis returned hr attention to his face, providing him with more support than he could handle at that moment. He touched her hand and waved, as if to ask her to stop. But Alexis was not like most girls. I did say she wasn’t forward at all, but she was…determined. She moved her attention to Bobby’s hair.
"Nicky was in therapy for two years before he figured out that it was okay for him to like girls and dress like one."
Bobby blinked again, closed his eyes, opened them and smiled at her. She smiled right back and continued to stroke his hair. And Alexis was actually innocent; she had no intention of starting anything. She wasn’t even dating Bobby at that point, and her mother raised her to wait. And she would. But she did want Bobby to understand that she understood…at least she wanted to, even if she didn’t quite understand entirely.
She lay in bed; awake after the dream interrupted her sleep. Actually, interrupted was not exactly accurate, since the dream was a welcome change from months of the horrific nightmares that no longer plagued her. She saw the plaza, like before, but things changed. The little girl still stooped to pick up the flower, and the man still spread his self-destructive hate, and the little girl was consumed with all the rest. But the smoke cleared, and the little girl stood calmly in the center of the destruction, as if she had never been killed. She looked back at her and smiled and waved, as if to say she was alright. Then, like the dream itself, she slowly faded away, peacefully and quietly. Suzanne, for that was her name, sat up and looked out of her bedroom window at the stars above the tree line near her apartment. For the first time in ages she felt at peace.
A Gentle Nudge
"It’s like I look forward to sleeping now, Doc. "Bobby smiled. He had been plagued with horrific nightmares, but over the past few months they had "morphed" into dreams that were entirely welcome changes. He had almost avoided sleeping at one point, so the dreams not only were a comfort emotionally, but he was actually getting the rest he needed.
"So what is it you want to talk about today?" Ben said. Rocco sat at his feet underneath the chair, chewing on an old sneaker. Ben looked over at the side table and pointed to the box of tissues. Bobby nodded and Ben handed him the box, purely as a precaution.
"I’m…afraid." He stopped as his eyes misted up. He was actually ashamed of his expression of emotion and the thought behind it until Ben reminded him,
"Let’s just take a look at that for a moment, Lad." Ben called Bobby lad even though he was thirty-two and Bobby was nearly twenty-nine; lad being a term of affection or affiliation. "You served your country not once, but twice in a combat zone. You saved two of your mates and got injured in the process. You witnessed the horror of children being killed or maimed, and now you deal with death and dying on a daily basis with little kids with cancer. Perhaps you can afford to be afraid about some things, yes?" Ben said this seriously, without any glibness, since Bobby, like many men, frequently listed his shortcomings while failing to remember the good he had accomplished or the difficulties he had endured.
"I’m afraid that Alexis….she won’t accept her." Bobby looked away, hoping that Ben had an answer when he turned back.
"Use the name, lad, it’s okay." Ben was encouraging him to recall what they had discussed last time.
"I’m afraid she won’t accept Suzanne." Like many of us, he feared rejection of that part of our personality that makes us "more of who we are," as someone once put it. Suzanne was his "other self," more so than most, since she was the woman in his dreams as well.
"Alexis already knows about Suzanne?" Ben said this more as a statement.
"But knowing about her and wanting to know her…." Bobby recalled the last time he had opened up to a girl about his alter-ego. His then girlfriend didn’t reject him, per se, as they still remained friends, but that put an end to any hope for more than just friendship. And his only love had married his best friend recently, adding to the hopelessness he now felt.
"From what you tell me, she seems like she understands at least, about Suzanne. Perhaps there’s nothing left but to ask her about Suzanne. I think the not knowing is much worse right now for you from what you already told me, and she seems like she wants to be your friend. Think and pray about it, but I expect that either way, you’ll arrive at the best solution for you. I trust you, lad, and I’m proud of what you’ve already done. Trust yourself, you’ve got a lot goin’ for you, and I think you’ll be surprised at her answer as well."
A similar conversation was taking place in Tina’s kitchen, where Alexis sat as Tina combed her hair.
"But what if he doesn’t want more, Tina. I just couldn’t handle that again." Alexis had been engaged to guy a few years ago. He had been condescending and was entirely unfaithful during their engagement, leaving her unsure about herself.
Her counselor and her friends helped her understand that the rejection was his problem, and that she was, in the words of her mother Nancy, "a catch."
"I’m sorry if I don’t have anything profound to say other than, "ASK HIM!" Alexis was not, as some might say, forward, but she could be….determined. She usually didn’t hold back when something was important to her, and Tina reminded her that her love for Bobby was extremely important. "You’re already his best friend, Ali (she had called her sister that since they were kids) Go ahead. He’s a terrific guy, and no matter what else is going on, you both deserve to at least know where you stand."
"I just can’t, Sis." Alexis burst into tears and buried her head in her sister’s shoulder. Tina tried awfully hard not to think about it, but she decided her sister needed her help. She kissed her sister’s ear and found herself surprised that she was crying along with Alexis.
Suzanne looked out the window and welcomed her nightly visitors. The stars were brilliant tonight, owing to a neighborhood blackout from a blown transformer that eliminated all the streetlights for the moment. The girl had come to her in the dream again, this time leading her down a path to a cottage where another woman stood with open arms. She had hoped it was someone she knew, and it was, but she was disappointed to see that it was herself she saw. She was discovering that she was becoming more self-assured, and she figured the dream was one way she was telling herself it was okay to be her. But the dream continued, and another woman stepped out from behind the door and stood next to her.
The woman touched her arm gently, but just as the woman turned to show her face the dream ended, leaving her frustrated but still with a little hope.
Tina was checking a chart when Bobby walked in the room.
"Bobby, can I talk with you." Tina touched his arm in a sisterly fashion. He turned and smiled.
"We’re friends, right?" Of course they were friends. Tina had made an effort to help him get acclimated when he first started his social work position with the children’s unit, and she was more than just a little interested in how his relationship with her sister was progressing. We may choose to forgive her for what she said next, as some might consider it meddling, but it was just a sister’s love in spoken word.
"I think Alexis loves you." She said, and her face reddened as she realized she had meant to say "like." Her face almost paled at the glowing approximation of magenta on Bobby’s face. Swept away by the moment, she continued awkwardly but determined nonetheless (yes, it runs in the family).
"And I think you love her!" There was that word again! She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. She almost started to cry, partly out of embarrassment, and mostly out of relief. "Say something, brother!"
She meant to Alexis, but Bobby responded,
"Okay…." He said quietly, almost in a daze. Tina wasn’t trying to manipulate the situation, by any means, but Someone else might have prompted her. Bobby said once again, almost as a way of encouraging himself, "Okay."
Suzanne walked to her dresser and picked up the hairbrush. She hadn’t thought much of her appearance in a long while, and she was glad that she was giving herself some long overdue attention. She looked in the mirror, remembering the image she had seen weeks ago. Instead of shame and embarrassment, she felt good about her reflection. She’d have to do something about her hair soon, but it would have to do for the moment. Her makeup was subdued; she wanted to look "nice," and she had achieved that effect. Her lobes sported new gold studs in the shape of crosses, and she wore a matching cross on a chain around her slender neck. Her dress, a nice lime green silk, hung softly on her and made her feel good about her body for the first time in ages. She still worried about how she would be received, and there remained some understandable fear of rejection, but she was determined as much as she could be to present herself as she was instead of how others felt she should be. Standing behind her over her right shoulder, she thought she saw a little girl. And the little girl smiled a smile of approval, of relief, and of peace.
"Can I come over? I need to talk with you."
It was almost midnight, but Alexis heard the anxiety in Bobby's voice
"Sure, Bobby, I'll put on some tea."
"Better make that coffee, if that's alright."
Alexis sat on her couch, reading her Bible when a soft knock came at the door. She didn't know what to expect, since Bobby seemed more than a little urgent on the phone. She rose and went to the door and opened it. Instead of Bobby, a pretty girl of about her own age stood at the door. She wore her hair up, revealing a slender neck. She was dressed in khaki slacks and a nice teal blouse, with a mauve lace shawl draped over her shoulders. And she looked familiar.
"Oh...hi, come on in," Alexis said, as if she already knew the young woman standing before her, which she actually did.
The girl shared the same face Alexis had seen adorn the man she had fallen in love with that one evening recently, and she had expected that Suzanne would be visiting her shortly. She reached up slightly and kissed the girl on the cheek and grabbed her arm softly, guiding her in welcome. "I didn't expect you so soon," she said as she went into the kitchen to retrieve the coffee pot and some mugs. She actually meant "so soon" in relation to the drive over, rather than meeting Suzanne. She had already talked with Bobby several times regarding Suzanne, so "her" visit wasn't entirely unexpected.
You may remember the conversation Bobby had with Ben, where he had expressed his fears in an almost ashamed manner. It was clear that Suzanne was afraid to speak as well, and Alexis wanted her to feel at home. It's strange, since Suzanne had expected at least some awkward behavior on Alexis's part, and would have settled for that instead of the rejection she dreaded would come. She received neither, since Alexis was as we have noted, a determined girl, and nothing would keep her from accepting this part of Bobby; no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it might feel. In fact, she had put a lot of thought into her first few words with Suzanne and had settled on,
"I'm so glad you could come. I've heard so much about you and I've been looking forward to meeting you." This reception was almost too much for Suzanne to handle; she had spent the better part of fifteen years trying to get the courage to reveal herself to the "world," and having someone accept her so easily caused her to weep. Now, considering that Suzanne also, as it were, served two tours in Iraq and had witnessed unspeakable horrors and worked with fragile dying children, it shouldn't be a surprise that her emotions were on the surface so much. And she didn't actually receive the benefits of having the same friends as Bobby, since she remained quiet and in the background all the time. Alexis put down the coffee pot and walked quickly to the sad figure standing in her living room. She hugged Suzanne and said softly, over and over, like a mother comforting her child, "It's okay, I'm here." Alexis wasn't Suzanne's mother, obviously, but she needed comfort and Alexis loved Bobby enough to care deeply for this part of him. And as you may recall, this author is entirely convinced that it's the men who don't cry that need our attention and worry.
They sat on the couch; awkwardly for Suzanne and with unexpected ease for Alexis. She drank her coffee and held Suzanne's hand as they talked. They had been talking for nearly two hours and it was getting late. Suzanne wanted to leave, deciding she had burdened Alexis long enough. Alexis wanted her to stay, even through the night, if needs be, since they were just getting to know one another, if that makes sense. Alexis had learned a great deal about Suzanne, and what she heard made her love the "whole" person all the more. Bobby and Suzanne were almost equally part of the person she loved, and she knew that Suzanne needed to be heard for who she was.
"It's okay...you can stay tonight. This is a sofa-bed, so there's plenty of room." Alexis wouldn't think of the situation in anything other than a friend helping a friend; that's what she believed since that's how she was raised.
Part of her was tempted, but she cared too much for their relationship to move too fast or place expectations on them that neither was prepared to fulfill. They really never needed the sofa-bed, since they talked for several more hours before Suzanne went home at dawn.
Alexis sat at in her mother’s kitchen after a nice lunch. The dishes were still sitting in the sink as the women were having a heart-to-heart talk.
"Nanay, what was it about Daddy that you fell in love with?" Nancy Soriano was combing her daughter's hair at the kitchen table, humming a nice tune to herself. She leaned over and looked her daughter in the eye and said, "Everything, taguri, everything!" Nancy had met Peter when she was a nurse in the Army. Peter was a kind doctor who was entirely non-condescending to the nurses, unlike some of his peers, and he made all the women feel welcome and appreciated. "It'll never work," her friends had said. Peter was second generation Filipino-American and she was a Scot from Glasgow. The mixture proved to be wonderful, as their love grew year by year and they had two lovely daughters to show for thirty-two years of marriage. Nancy had lost most of her accent, but still said, "And this would be about that laddie yer interested in?" Nancy teased. Everyone knew that Alexis had fallen hard for Bobby; Tina had even encouraged it. So Nancy expected this talk to take place, and she was prepared.
"I trust you, Ali. Bobby's a sweet fella, and I can see you love him. It's what you think about him that matters. Daddy and I will love anyone you love; you know that, so you have to decide for yourself. We raised you and Tina to be kind and caring and loving, so if you think Bobby's the one, then he is. Okay, baby?"
Alexis sat in her car and dialed Bobby’s number on her cell phone.
"I need to talk, can I come over?"
"I need time to change, so give me about a half-hour."
"I need to see you now, and I don't care who's there," Alexis said, which surprised Bobby. He thought for a moment and then said,
"Sure, Alexis, that's okay."
"Put on some coffee."
The drive to Bobby’s place took only minutes, since she was around the block at the WAWA when she called. She parked the car and practically ran up the steps to his apartment. She rang the door bell and waited anxiously for a moment until the door opened. Suzanne was in a nice teal robe over grey satin pajamas. She leaned over and kissed Alexis on the cheek and ushered her in, much in the same fashion that Alexis had greeted her days before. A fresh pot of coffee sat on a potholder on the coffee table, along with some half-and-half and some sweetener.
"Good, I'm glad it's you. We need to talk." Alexis looked straight at Suzanne with an awkward smile, but a smile nonetheless. She usually stood about 5'5", so Suzanne was taller than her at 5'9", but Alexis was wearing heels.
Suzanne looked at her, expecting the worst, as if tonight might be the final night. She was happily mistaken.
"I've been thinking a lot about this, and you'll excuse me if I mix things up. Bobby, I love you. I don't think I've ever cared about anyone ever like I care for you. (Pronouns and proper names would be mixed up from then on, throughout the evening, and beyond.)
"You are the nicest, sweetest, kindest man I ever knew." I'm sure that Suzanne's attire hasn't been lost on you, dear reader, but I digress. "You make me feel good about myself, and I haven't had that for a long time. When Jimmy broke up with me, I thought I'd never feel good about myself, and that no man would want me. But you care, and I think you love me just as much as I love you." Suzanne departed, only for a little while as Bobby spoke,
"Oh God, Ali, I love you so much. I loved you the first time we met at your sister's house." He looked down at his attire, and would have wept ashamedly at one time. It was an awkward moment; almost silly or foolish some might think. Alexis noted his expression and quickly grabbed his hands. She pulled him closer and here's where everything got interesting, confusing and wonderful at the same time. She kissed him and her, I suppose, and he and she kissed back.
Bobby kissed Alexis as only a man can kiss a woman. And Suzanne was kissed for the very first time, if that's possible.
She felt totally and utterly in love and loved, being finally accepted for the person she was. Alexis may have been the only one who wasn't confused. She, of course, knew whom she was kissing, and it didn't matter if he wore girl's pajamas or she if she wore jeans and a tee shirt. She only knew that she loved every bit of the person she loved. She accepted and enjoyed every facet of Bobby's personality, and it was wonderful, even if some might find that odd.
Everyone grew quiet as the father of the soon-to-be bride asked for their attention.
"And I hope you live a long life blessed with lovely children. "Kaawaan ka ng diyos!" Peter Soriano lifted a glass and laughed.
"Tatay!" Alexis swatted her father's arm playfully. She turned to Bobby and said,
"He just asked for God's mercy on you!" She smiled back at her clever father who beamed with pride over his daughter's engagement. Margot Manceau sat next to her son, smiling and remembering that she had prayed for him to find that "special someone," whom he did. Nancy and Tina and her fiance Manny sat across from the happy couple, smiling and laughing along with the company.
And off to the side, unnoticed, a little girl sat quietly. She smiled and then waved. Suzanne, for that was her name, waved back at the little girl, who slowly faded away, peacefully for the last time.
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