Gloria Lockwood was on her hands and knees, head ducked into the empty cabinet under the kitchen sink. Mountains of cleaning supplies surrounded her on the floor.
Amazing how grimy hidden spots in old houses got. She'd create a deep cleaning schedule so she no longer had an excuse to fall behind. It wasn't like she had kids to watch. Anymore. "Her kids" had grown up and flown the coop. Now they lived their own lives, leaving her in this extremely empty nest.
She finished the floor of the cabinet and backed carefully out to avoid banging her head. She came to her feet past creaky knees and rinsed her cloth in the sink. After giving her complaining legs a loose shake, she assumed the position and climbed back under for a rinse.
It was then that she heard her cell phone ring.
She groaned and rolled her eyes. Knowing how long it would take to extricate herself from the cabinet, get to her feet and find her phone wherever she'd left it, she decided to let it go to voicemail until she was done with her work and could return the call at her leisure.
That was another change in her life. She could schedule things on her terms. Her personal calendar was much lighter, giving her more time to do whatever the heck she wanted, whenever and for how long.
Okay, cleaning out the kitchen cabinet wasn't exactly a good example. But at least she had the time now to do it right.
She finished her rinsing, then began wiping it dry, trying to manage the seed of worry that she'd ignored a phone call. What if it was Brent? What if he was in a bind and needed her help? Ignore the fact that he lived three hours away by car. If he was having an emergency, she wouldn’t have a chance at helping him. Hopefully he was developing a new network of helpers there in Raleigh-Durham for those times that he needed a hand.
She maneuvered out of the cabinet again, and getting to her feet, she glanced around for her phone. Old habits die hard. Despite the fact that she couldn't necessarily come to her nephew's rescue, she still wanted to know what was going on.
The doorbell rang. Gloria huffed in frustration. Phone calls? Doorbells ringing? She wasn't used to this level of evening activity, not since the boys moved out. She headed for the front door, wiping a strand of hair out of her face with a hand still wet from her chore. She pulled it open.
Her best friend Renee stood on the step, looking un-sweaty, un-tired and cutely dressed in tan capris, a flowing flowered top, sandals and pink polished nails. Not to mention, hair and makeup. After a pause while Renee studied her up and down, she said, "You forgot, didn't you?
"Ummm," said Gloria while her mind ran.
Renee pushed past her into the bungalow. Like a bloodhound, she barely glanced at the front of the house with the great room and eating nook, and headed straight for the kitchen. "I knew it." She pointed at all the items that Gloria'd pulled out from under the sink. "I knew I should've sent you a reminder this morning."
"Oh! Is that tonight?" Gloria twirled in a circle, till she faced her Beaches calendar hanging from a nail on a cabinet. She looked at it, pointed at the box designating today. "No, see? Not today."
Renee sported an amused grin and an eye roll, stepped over and flipped the calendar from April to May. Now she saw it. The seventh of May, not April, had a notation: Renee. 6:30. Kitchen Capers. "Oh! My gosh, what is wrong with me?"
"It's all right …," Renee said.
Gloria interrupted. "I was really looking forward to it."
"I know you were, sweetie. It's not too late." She put a hand on each of Gloria's shoulders and guided her down the hall to her bedroom. "Just a quick outfit change, brush through the hair and maybe a swipe of foundation and powder, and we'll be all set."
Gloria stared wide-eyed into her mirror and sighed. "Are you sure we have the time?"
"Absolutely. You work on that and I'll call Elena at Kitchen Capers. Give her a heads up we might be a smidge late. She'll wait for us."
"I'm sorry.” Gloria dragged her attention from the mirror and focused on her best friend's eyes.
"Not a problem." Renee squeezed her arm and pulled her in so their foreheads rested on each other. "It's gonna be fun."
And off she went. Gloria turned back to her task at hand, making herself presentable for a social evening out with her bestie.
Fifteen minutes later, she'd done remarkably well. Body powder did wonders when a shower wasn't possible. Clean outfit, a run through her hair with the curling iron and a whole new layer of makeup. Renee validated when Gloria revealed herself: a low whistle and "Ah Mama!"
They hurried to Renee's car and started the thirty-minute-or-more-with-tourist-traffic trip. Full-time residents of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina all knew to keep the majority of their activities in the South Strand: Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach, Pawleys Island. Venture north and you'd be putting yourself into the tourist paradise of Myrtle Beach. From spring break each year, through the end of the summer, tourists ran rampant. Just in time for hurricane season, the tourists vacated, leaving September through February the most calm and peaceful time of year.
"I don't know what's wrong with me, I really don't."
Renee glanced over at her. "You're getting used to your new life with all the changes."
"That's for sure. But don't you think it should be easier now with no one to take care of but myself?"
Renee considered that and shook it off. "Not easier. Not harder. Just different. When you took your nephews in, you were thrown into sudden mom mode." She snapped her fingers. "No time to adjust. Two teenage boys lost their parents and you were exactly what they needed when they needed it."
Gloria quieted. More than a dozen years had passed since the terrible house fire that claimed the lives of her sister Angela and her husband Brandon, as well as paralyzed their younger son Brent. The passage of time had taken away the horror, but not the sadness. Nor the uncertainty of how something so horrible could've happened to such a kind and loving family. Thankfully, her older nephew Blake hadn't been home that night and therefore, didn't suffer any physical injuries. Emotional, of course, just like the rest of them.
"Anyone would've done what I did. I loved my sister and her sons, and I was available to take care of them."
Renee reached over with a smile and laid her hand atop Gloria's. "My point is, that was a sudden change in your life, and now you have another change. You did a great job of raising them, and now they're independent. They still need you, but not in the same way. You have time and freedom now to do what makes you happy."
Helping Blake and Brent did make Gloria happy. It gave her purpose. It also was such a big job that she didn't have time to focus on building her own family outside of her nephews. She didn't date while the boys were home, and of course, she never had her own children. It's okay. Blake and Brent were all the family she ever needed.
"Well, I appreciate you setting up this outing and I apologize again for not being ready. I'll do better. In fact, the reason I was cleaning under the kitchen sink is because I'm putting together a deep cleaning schedule. Catch up on some projects I never took time to do before. Maybe when the place is spic and span I'll start on some home improvement type projects as well."
She glanced over at Renee, who looked like she had a stomachache. Her friend shook her head. "That's not the kind of activity I mean. Cleaning and painting? You can hire all that out. You need to get out in the world. Make friends. Have fun. Meet a man."
Gloria rested her head back on her seat. Renee was right. It wasn't that she was against being social, having fun, or heck, even meeting a man or two. It would just take a while to adjust to all this free time. Fortunately, Renee was also an empty nester, her daughter now a freshman in college, and other than the man, which she already had, was looking for the same things Gloria was. They'd make a good pair in this new venture.
Renee cursed under her breath and pushed on her brake. She pointed a wide-eyed look of annoyance at Gloria.
“Tourist traffic,” Gloria said. There was nothing to be done about it. Living in this beautiful area of the country was payment enough for having to deal with crowds for half the year. “Should we call and cancel?”
“No.” The response was immediate and firm. “We deserve a night out. Let’s still do it.”
Gloria settled into the seat while the car inched forward.