A Short Bellingwood Vignette
Lydia breathed in the scent of her coffee and cut another bite of coffee cake with her fork. A perfect morning. Aaron was gone for the day, she had nothing big planned, and each one of her kids had called to check in over the last few days. They were happy in their lives, meaning she could be content. The day was hers.
She had a refrigerator filled with ingredients that would be turned into casseroles to share and meals for the week. There was something satisfying about spending the day preparing food for others. She’d delivered two of her last beef stew dishes on Friday to women-friends who had difficulty in their kitchens. Mabel Ostrem used to be Lydia for the elderly and shut-ins around the community, but she had to give that up years ago after a stroke took much of her agility. A soft-spoken woman who rarely complained, Lydia knew how she hated relying on others. Even more than she hated the idea of being put away in a nursing home. So, that was one person who regularly got visits, treats, and meals delivered to her home. Even with her disability, the home was always neat and clean and Mabel was as properly dressed and made-up as she always had been. Lydia knew it just took longer for her to make it happen.
She put the fork back on the plate, surprised it was still in her hand. The list of recipes she wanted to build today was on a three-by-five card and she perused it, trying to decide where to begin. Lydia smiled as she looked around her kitchen. She loved this room. Actually, she loved her whole house. No one would ever pry her out of it. The memories, the love, the parties, the joy, the agony, the pain, the fear. The terrible fear when she thought about losing Aaron. She hated that they’d passed the age where they had fifty or sixty years ahead of them. She grew frustrated when she caught herself musing about living without him or dying before he did and wondering if he’d re-marry. Those were pointless thoughts and only served to depress her. But it was harder and harder to set those thoughts aside. Life was so fragile and so precious.
Her fingers reached across the table to a bone china rose he’d given her for their first anniversary. He couldn’t afford it at the time, but had been unable to resist. Fragile and precious. She loved that rose.
Lydia frowned at the sound of her doorbell. Who in the world would bother her at this hour of the morning? Her friends had their own lives. Beryl was likely sound asleep and Andy would be madly cleaning and organizing her house after Len left for the music shop. Talk about changing a man’s life for the better. He was happy and outgoing now that he had music in his life again. As much as Andy had loved him before, she was ecstatic with the man he became after that life change. His happiness echoed all over her face.
She pushed the coffee back from the edge of the table, stood and sighed. That required a few more grunts and groans than it used to, but she refused to complain. Before she got to the front door, it opened. What was going on?
“Best friend! Best friend!”
Beryl Watson had planted herself in Lydia’s living room, dressed in her standard wild garb. A bright purple, pink, teal and yellow floppy hat with a flowery, flowing dress in every color of the rainbow. She had lime green leggings on and purple flats. Her big flowery tote bag was stuffed to the brim with all sorts of things, not to mention a couple of wrapped gift packages.
“What are you doing in my house?” Lydia demanded. Beryl had a key, so it was easy for her to come and go as she pleased. If there was one person who had permission to do that, it was Beryl.
“You’re coming with me. We have best friend things to do.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Lydia looked down at what she was wearing. She wasn’t fit for man nor beast. One of Aaron’s ratty old t-shirts and a pair of saggy jersey shorts that should have been replaced years ago. And … worst of all … no bra.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Putting on clean clothes will take five minutes. Then, you’re coming with me.”
Lydia looked at her friend in a challenge. “You mean this isn’t good enough?”
“It’s good enough for me. Come on, then.” You didn’t challenge Beryl. You always lost. Nothing bothered the woman. Especially not someone’s outside appearance.
“Oh, come on,” Lydia whined. “This is my day to cook. I was all ready to spend the day in the kitchen.” Then she looked around. “Where’s Andy? Why am I your only best friend? Why aren’t you bothering her?”
“Bothering her? Bothering her? I’m a bother?” Beryl stuck her lower lip out in a pout. “Today is National Best Friend Day. I wanted to do something fun with my favorite girls. Besides, I came to your house first hoping you’d drive.”
Protesting would be useless. Lydia shook her head in defeat. “Where are we going?”
“I thought we’d make a quick run to Sweet Beans and then I will treat you to a shopping holiday at the store of your dreams before our lunch reservation. We’re going to Ames. The drive isn’t that far.”
“The store of my dreams?” Lydia had no idea what Beryl might be talking about.
“Well, shopping area of your dreams. Downtown Ames. There’s a chocolaterie, a home goods store, a kitchen supply store, consignment store, everything! We never shop together and I want to have some fun. A huge deposit just hit my bank account and I have money to burn. Who better to spend it on than my best friends?”
“But I don’t need anything.”
“Who cares what you need? Today is all about fulfilling a bit of fantasy.” Beryl pulled out a bright blue, yellow, and orange floppy hat. “Match this, girlfriend. We’re going to play and have fun. Please?”
Lydia couldn’t help it. Beryl’s enthusiasm was contagious. She snagged the hat, slapped it on her head and took off for her bedroom. Surely she had something that was a little wild and fun hiding in her closet. And then she found it. A brightly colored Hawaiian blouse she’d worn to a beach party at Sycamore several years ago and a pair of bright blue capris. Beryl would be proud. That made her smile.
Beryl’s eyes lit up when she saw Lydia prance down the steps. “Look at you! I wasn’t sure if you had it in you.”
“You know Andy won’t participate.”
“That’s okay. I gave up on her years ago. She’ll always be Andy and I love her no matter what.”
Lydia nodded. “She’s pretty loveable. Do I need anything else?”
“Just one more thing.” Beryl dug back into her bag and pulled out three strands of colorful beads. “Will you wear these?”
“Why not? I’ve gone this far.” Lydia took the hat off and dropped the beads around her neck. She snagged her purse and keys up from the side table beside the door and they headed to the basement and out the back door.
Beryl babbled about the wonderful shops in downtown Ames, and Lydia smiled. The woman didn’t get out nearly enough. Not that she was a big shopper herself. She really had everything she needed and her kids liked to be able to buy gifts for her. Marilyn had worked her over years ago about buying things, ensuring that no one could give her gifts. So, she took stock of her belongings, realized how little she really needed after so many years of living and allowed them the joy of giving. They were generous and loving kids. That made her feel good.
That need to be generous was another reason she didn’t protest too much when Beryl asked to do this today. The woman was desperate to share her love with her friends and neither Andy nor Lydia made it easy. They didn’t need their friend to spend money on them. But in this moment, Beryl was the one who needed to do something for them and they had to allow it. Andy would likely put up more of a fuss, but she’d figure it out. She knew Beryl better than anyone.
“You stay here,” Beryl said when Lydia pulled into Andy’s driveway. “I’m about to beg and throw myself prostrate on the floor at her feet. I’d hate for you to have to watch the production. I thought I’d have to do that to you. You surprised me.” She picked up her tote bag and headed for the front door. Without bothering to knock, she walked in and Lydia smiled.
Taking out her phone, she texted Andy. “Be nice. Say yes. We’ll have fun.”
Andy probably wouldn’t see it until she was in the car, but it was all Lydia could think to do.
Within a few minutes, Beryl opened the front door. With all the drama she could muster, she slumped her shoulders and dragged her feet as she crossed in front of Lydia’s Jeep. She got in and said, “She can’t go.”
“What do you mean?”
“Miss Joss has to be at school with her kids today and Andy is opening the library and works all afternoon. The woman doesn’t have time for her friends. How rotten is that? She’s supposed to be retired. It’s not fair.”
Lydia reached over ad patted Beryl’s knee, thankful she hadn’t put up too much of a protest. Beryl was disappointed in Andy “I’m still up for it all. We’ll still have fun.”
Beryl grinned at her. “She’ll meet us at Sweet Beans for coffee before we leave. I should have asked earlier. She told me that my spontaneity gets me into trouble. I can’t help myself sometimes. Ideas come to me and they must be followed through with action or I kick myself later.” She pointed at her legs. “And these skinny extremities don’t need any more bruises.”
“I love you, crazy lady. Do we wait for her?”
She’ll drive herself. She just needed to put on something other than shorts. I don’t know why. She’s got beautiful legs.”
Lydia backed up and headed out. “We can’t all be as bold and wild as you are.”
“Should we try to kidnap Sylvie?” Beryl asked. “I have a reservation for three people.”
“She can’t go anywhere during the day.”
“We can always ask.”
“I’m not about to put her on the spot in her workplace. You know how she hates telling us she can’t do things with us.”
“Okay, what about Polly?”
“When I talked to her after church on Sunday, it sounded like she was busy all week. She has kids in the elementary school too and don’t forget, she has a graduating senior. Who knows what Rebecca has going on that requires Polly’s involvement.” Lydia stopped at the single stop sign in Bellingwood. Downtown traffic was still picking up. They might have to install another stop sign at the other end. “Am I not enough fun for you?”
Beryl dug into her bag again and came out with two kazoos. “Will you play a ditty with me?”
“Can I park first?”
“Look at you with all your rules.” Beryl heaved a sigh. “I suppose. Will you play it in Sweet Beans?”
“Will that make you happy?”
“Then, today and today only, I will play a kazoo with you in Sweet Beans.”
Beryl shoved the kazoos back into the bag. “I won’t make you. I just needed to know that you would.”
Lydia parked along the side of Sweet Beans and before Beryl could open her door, said, “What’s going on, dear? It feels like you’ve lost confidence in your friendships. Andy and I will always be part of your life. We couldn’t live without you.”
“I know that.” Beryl took off her hat and turned away from Lydia.
“What’s happening here?” Lydia asked, reaching over to touch Beryl’s arm. “Talk to me.”
When Beryl turned back, tears filled her eyes. “I don’t know how I will ever live without you. My friends are the most important thing in the world to me and sometimes I get so caught up in my own creative world that I ignore you and forget to acknowledge how much your friendship means. I hate that about myself.”
“But we love that about you. Your talent knows no bounds,” Lydia said. “We are proud of you and understand that it takes focus and time to bring it to life. We’ll always be there. I promise. No judgment, no condemnation. Only love. That’s what we have for each other. Love. Right?”
Beryl took out one of the wrapped packages and handed it to Lydia. “Might as well open it now. I’m not going inside until the tears dry up. I don’t need Bellingwood gossiping about the terrible tragedy that is my life.”
“And they will,” Lydia said with a laugh. “They can make things up and the negative will spread like wildfire. What is this?”
“You’ll never know until you open it.” Beryl tapped impatiently on the package.
A four-by-six photograph of the three women along with Sylvie and Polly was in a wooden frame that had Beryl’s signature painting technique all over it. She’d painted flowers and birds, buzzing bees and scampering squirrels. This was going to sit on Lydia’s kitchen table.
It was her turn to cry. “This is perfect. Thank you for being my friend.”