There was uncertainty in his voice when he spoke, which made my stomach twist into knots even more. I was all too familiar with being stood up. I thought he was different. He had been doing so well, I almost forgot he was still a man.
“Hey, Meg. It’s, uh, Kyle. Um, about our date tonight . . . Ah, this is kind of embarrassing . . . I don’t know where you live.”
I burst into laughter. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear to say that!”
“Thought I was calling to cancel, huh?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“What man would be so dumb to leave a beautiful woman like you hanging?” he said, but he would be surprised. There was one, just one.
His real name wasn’t Brick. I never knew it. He’d changed it when he turned eighteen. Not even his parents called him by his real name, or so I thought. I never met them. I guess I wasn’t as special of a girlfriend to him as I’d thought.
Brick had already dropped out of college before I started my freshman year, but he still hung around campus—mainly for frat parties and to meet girls. That was how we met. We started dating shortly after, and after only three months, he convinced me to drop out of school too and drive across the country with him, visiting every state on the map. That’s where the real education was, he’d said. Off the grid, beyond the frontier, life experience no degree could ever give you. Grandma called us both fools.
“So why don’t you give me your address, and I’ll put it in the GPS. Pick you up in about 45?”
“Actually—” I looked down at my watch. Quarter to seven. I could get home in fifteen minutes, take a quick shower, maybe throw on some make up, and be standing in front of my closet naked, deciding and then changing my mind about which dress I wanted to wear by the time he knocked on my door. “I’m not at home right now. I’m visiting my grandma, and—” I turned my back to Grandma and cupped my hand over my mouth. “She’s in her stall routine right now, so it might be another hour before I can leave,” I whispered into the phone.
“Say no more. My dad is the same way.”
“Uh-uh. Don’t blame me for holding this man up.” Grandma snatched my phone out of my hand. “Hello?” She brought the phone to her ear, cocked her head to the side. She folded her left hand under her armpit and shifted her weight onto her right leg, poking out her hip like an impatient teenager. “The one and only,” she said. “You can call me Millie. And what’s your name? And how old are you Kyle? Hmm, thirty three.” She tottered her hand in front of her. “Not too old, not too young.” Was she inquiring about a potential suitor for me or measuring out porridge? “You know, Jesus was thirty-three when he died on the cross. Are you going to save my granddaughter from her poor choices in men?”
I slapped my palm against my face. “Give me the phone, Grandma.”
She held up her finger. “I just have one more question,” she said to me, then to Kyle, “What do you do for a living?” Her eyes widened. “So she did find herself a pilot. Oh, Meg, why didn’t you tell me?” With a light force, she tapped the top of my hand with her finger tips, as if chiding me of stealing cookies from the cookie jar before dinner. “Well, Kyle, I would love to meet you. Why don’t you come pick up Meg from here. Cedar Retirement.”
I vehemently shook my head no, but she rolled her eyes and turned to the side, giving me her profile. “Oh, he does? What a coincidence! So I’ll see you when you get here? Ok, thirty minutes. Bye-bye, now.” She hung up the phone and handed it back to me. “He seems nice.”
“Better watch out, Meg,” Jerry said, “she might steal your boyfriend right from under ya!”
“Oh, please.” Grandma put her hands on her hips. “I am too old to be doing something so childish.”
“Grandma, why did you tell him to come here. I wanted to stop by the house first. Take a shower, change, do something with my hair.” I fluffed my ends. The curls were starting to frizz and puff out. Now that I wasn’t sitting directly under the air vent, the room was much more humid that I’d thought. I turned my nose over my shoulder and inhaled a quick sniff. I could use another coat of deodorant too.
“Oh, please!” Grandma fanned her hand in front of my face. “You worry too much. You’re beautiful. Do you think you were looking all prim and perfect 30,000 feet in the air? No, you were probably sweating. Your bunions were probably killing you in those heels, and a snot-nosed kid in economy probably threw up all over you. And he still called you beautiful.”
I bowed my head, stretched out my oversize blouse in front of me. Twisted out my ankle to examine my skinny jeans that were torn in spots along the seam. My attire wasn’t too informal, but I always felt the need to dress up around Kyle, look professional, straighten my hair. I couldn’t separate the buttoned up, erect, shoulders never hunched, business side of him from who he was as a person. Not even when he casually flirted with me during flights, whispered in my ear about taking me out sometime.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Grandma said. I shook my head, but looking into her eyes, those same feelings of doubt and insecurity reflected back to me. “I was the same way with Lindell. Don’t try to whiten yourself up for him, sweetheart. He likes you for you. If he wanted a white woman, he would be with one.”
“How do you know he’s white? I’ve worked with black pilots before.”
Grandma poked out her bottom lip, as if to say, “I’m Grandma. I always know.”
I wiped my eyes and laughed to keep from crying. “I love you, Grandma.”
“I love you too, sweetheart.” She pulled me in for a hug then leaned back to look at me. “My, my, if Walter could see you now. He was worried about you, you know.”
She curled her back and walked around the table stretching out her shaky fist as if holding a cane. “I can’t die before Meg has a man! I can’t die before Meg has a man!” she said with a whistle, mimicking his voice.
“Yea, that sounds like Pawpaw.” He’d been trying to marry me off since I was sixteen. I can’t take care of you all your life; I won’t be around much longer, I remembered him saying on several occasions. Junior and senior proms. High school graduation. After helping me move into my first college dorm, he’d folded a crisp one hundred dollar bill into my palm and said, “Drop this in front of someone as good-looking as me. Make sure he gets a good look at your butt when you bend over to pick it up.” Pawpaw couldn’t help his age. In his day, women married young, had the babies, and took care of the house. To him, if I waited too long, all the good men would be taken, and I’d have to settle for fools . . . like Brick.
“That was his dying wish for you,” Grandma said. “In the hospital, after you kissed him goodbye and left to sit in the waiting room, he pulled me close and said, ‘Don’t leave this earth until they both married.’ You and your Mama.”
If I didn’t know Pawpaw, I wouldn’t have thought it was true, but if anyone were to make such a dying wish, it definitely would’ve been him. “It’s just a first date, Grandma. Don’t marry me and Kyle just yet. Besides, you’ll have a harder time with Mama. She hasn’t been with anyone since my dad.”
“No, no. I talked to her just a few days ago, and apparently she’s found herself a little man down there in the bayou. You’re the only one left.”
Grandma shrugged her shoulders. “You’ll have to ask her.”
It wouldn’t slip my mind. I would ask her tonight, as soon as I returned home from my date with Kyle, assuming our date wouldn’t spill over into the next morning. I shook my head. It wouldn’t. Moving too fast—that’s what got me caught up in that toxic relationship with Brick.
“So what about you?” I folded my arms across my chest. Pawpaw was so worried about leaving us poor, helpless women alone, with no one to take care of us, if Mama and I found husbands and left, who would stay with Grandma? “Did he tell you you could remarry?”
Grandma snaked her head around her neck exaggeratedly. “Meg, I had twenty-two husbands before him, of course he did! I married three more times after Walter died.”
Everything inside me dropped. My legs, my stomach, my ass, my jaw. I fell into my chair and slammed both elbows down on the table. “WHEN?!”
Yep, Pawpaw wasn’t the last of her husbands. Looks like this A to Z Challenge is extending into May if I don’t catch up by tomorrow. Oh well, you’d like to see the conclusion to this story, wouldn’t you?