Sherise couldn’t help herself. When she watered one plant, she had to water them all. It only seemed fair. After all, she wouldn’t just feed the dog and leave the cats to stare at her in hungry anticipation. It would be like having a favorite child!
She set the watering can on the plant stand and sank onto the soft couch. Her gaze wandered the well-appointed room. Olive green couches faced each other like book ends. The coffee table was covered with novels, photo albums, a partially completed puzzle, and this morning’s forgotten coffee cup.
The wood stove stood in perfect attendance on the south end, while a crackling fire sent just enough warmth to keep the house from freezing during this latest arctic blast.
She peered out the west window. Snow slanted across the landscape in driven clouds. Evergreen bushes in front of the house drooped under the weight of a thick white blanket, and tree branches, glistening with ice, danced like characters out of a wintery fairy tale.
Stomping footfalls ascending the porch steps stirred Sherise from her reverie. It took two tries, but she finally pulled herself free from the enfolding couch and tottered on stiff legs to the kitchen. Grateful that the coffee carafe was still a third full, she rotated to the stove and checked the muffin tin she had popped in twenty minutes before.
Ah, perfect! Nice hot cinnamon muffins with a steaming cup of coffee would be a worthy reward for Emory’s kindness in shoveling her walkway. Not that she planned on walking anywhere until the sun broke through and melted the treacherous ice, but it was nice that she could at least step outside without risking a broken neck.
The back door opened and her dark-haired son, sporting a snow-covered head and coat, tromped into the warm kitchen.
“Hey, Mom, hope you got something hot for me. I warmed up while shoveling, but when I tried to fix that broken top step, the ice nearly froze my fingers.” He tugged off his work gloves, shoved them into large pockets, pulled his arms free of his heavy coat, and then tossed it over a kitchen chair.
With practiced finesse, Sherise pulled the muffins from the oven, popped each one onto a waiting plate, and then set it on the wooden kitchen table. “Coffee’s still hot; fix it as you like.”
Leaning on the counter, Sherise watched her son pour sugar and creamer into his coffee, then pluck a muffin from the stack. He slid onto a smooth chair at the table and tucked in.
Black dribbles across the counter caught her eye, and she snatched a dish rag from the sink and started wiping it down. The shadow of an unasked question hung in the air.
After gobbling two muffins and sipping the piping hot drink, Emory leaned back with a relieved sigh and wiped crumbs from his face. “Thanks, Mom. That was good.” He took a final slurp of his coffee.
Pulling out a chair, Sherise sat opposite her son and gathered her courage. “So?”
A blank expression resisted answering.
Her heart squeezed painfully; Sherise forged through cold ignorance to seek understanding. “What did the test show? Is she?”
The fake eye-roll, an exaggerated attempt at innocence, heightened the color in Emory’s face. “No, Mom. She isn’t. And for that, we’re really grateful. We already decided we don’t want kids. Nearly scared her to death thinking that she might have a problem on her hands.” He narrowed his eyes, an accusing judge. “You know she loves her job, and a kid would distract her from her work. She’s got a real chance at doing something important with her life; you understand that, don’t you?”
Swallowing the lump rising in her throat, Sherise struggled against an onslaught of tears. Words rushed out before she could stop them. “Too bad I wasted my life raising you kids, is that it?”
His face darkening, Emory shoved his empty cup aside and shifted in his seat, making ready to depart. “It’s not your concern, Mom. It’s Carla’s life. Not mine. Not yours.”
A mental image of her daughter, Jodie, at the doctor’s office, crying her heart out after a poor prognosis, sent a shiver through Sherise. “I’ll never have grandkids, then.”
Rising to his feet, Emory towered, an unmovable mountain. “Jodie can always adopt. Besides, infertility isn’t an issue anymore. They have baby pods or some such God-awful thing if you’re desperate enough. Carla and I made our decision. If we want one later, we can always try then. But for now, please don’t push.” He shrugged and offered a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “Grandkids aren’t guaranteed in the Constitution or anything.”
An image of a dry cistern in the desert rose in Sherise’s mind. A massive gaping hole under a relentlessly blue sky with a scorching wind offering a blistering death.
Her back aching, Sherise rose, her hands helpless at her sides. “I love you both. Please, don’t absolutely refuse children. Being open to love is not a problem to be solved but the only solution.”
A grunted assent with a departing hug, Emory was ready to go. He stopped in the doorway, the cold wind whisking through. “I could only tack that first step in place. Sometime in the spring, I’ll get out here and replace it altogether. Can’t trust rotten wood.” He flashed a hope-you-understand smile and shut the door behind him.
A settled ache remained with Sherise all morning as she shuffled about her duties: laundry needed to be dried and folded, an agenda must be completed before the town board’s next meeting on Thursday, and the car oil change had to be scheduled for early next week. A tuna sandwich and a cup of tea served for lunch, and after completing an editorial report for a friend, feeding her patient hound dog and three meowing cats, she hurried back into the kitchen and gathered the makings for supper.
Jodie and Frank were due at five o’clock with assurances that their truck could make it through any weather.
She pulled defrosted steaks from the refrigerator and then dragged a sack of potatoes from the bin by the door. Would they have news? She shrugged. They never had news. Jodie rarely talked about her accounting work, too boring, she always said. Frank didn’t like his job, but as he joked, he didn’t hate it either. So, life was good.
Her heart pinched in a vice grip. Was it?
With a sigh, she started paring the potatoes, filling the sink with thin peels.
Her phone chimed.
Scowling, she tried to remember where she had left the darn thing. On the counter, of course. She scurried over, hoping to catch it in time.
A throat cleared, and the voice, tight and strained, reached over the miles. “Yeah. Mom. Turns out we were wrong. She is expecting. Or rather, she’s carrying. No expecting about it.”
Confusion, like a muddling cloud, swirled through Sherise’s mind. “What are you talking about, Emory?” The vice in her stomach tightened another notch.
“Carla is pregnant. About nine weeks along. She got so sick at work today that they ordered her to the hospital. Turns out she’s fine, just having really bad morning sickness.”
Tears filled Sherise’s eyes. “That’s a good sign. Means the baby is strong.”
A bitter chuckle broke over the line. “Well, Carla isn’t. She doesn’t want this, Mom. She had other plans.”
Shaking her head, Sherise stepped back to the table and plunked down on a chair. “Remember when you failed your college statistics class and you thought you’d never graduate?”
“I changed majors, Mom! I hated that class and everything to do with numbers.”
The first rays of light broke through the late afternoon clouds and sent a shaft slanting into the kitchen. “Yes. You’re right, honey. And then you discovered that you loved something that you never expected.”
Silence held Sherise in momentary suspense.
Then a chuckle unlocked the vice.
“You making anything special for dinner tonight?”
“Jodie and Frank are coming by for steak and potatoes.”
“They’ll be very happy for you. Come and join us.” She sucked in a breath, bracing herself. “Jodie started looking into foster care. They just need to get through a couple more interviews, and they’ll be ready to accept their first child.”
A snort. “You’re determined to get grandkids, one way or another, aren’t you, Mom?”
Tears burned in Sherise’s eyes. “I don’t need grandkids, in particular. I’ve lots of people to love. I just want…I pray that you get to share your love as I have.” She struggled to keep her voice steady. “It’s the only thing keeping me alive.”
Muffled conversation in the background and a deep sigh. Emory spoke up, “Carla says she can’t eat, but maybe you can defrost that chicken soup you made last week. We’ll come by and look through the old photo albums, embarrass the heck out of each other with ‘remember-when’ stories.”
Climbing to her feet, Sherise’s gaze strayed to the watering can in the living room. The long-tendrilled plant basked in the last rays of sunlight, glowing in vibrant beauty.
“I’ve got some soft bread that’ll help settle Carla’s stomach, and it’ll go well with the soup. There’s plenty of steak and potatoes. Just be careful getting here.”
Once dinner arrangements were settled and the phone slipped into her pocket, Sherise padded to the front window and fingered the long green and yellow vines. Peace enveloped her. “I may do the watering, but God gives light.”
Hungry for the first time in days, Sherise returned to the kitchen.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
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