Cameron drew a long sip of her iced tea while she waited for Mom to return from the restroom. She appreciated this minute to organize her thoughts away from her mother’s questioning gaze. Ever since Cameron came back from her date with Alex on the mall, Mom had been looking at her with a strange look in her eye. Then as soon as Lizzie climbed the bus steps this morning on her way to school, Mom cornered her, suggesting that they go out to lunch.
It wasn’t like she and Mom didn’t have lunch together. They did. Often. But the deliberate way Mom insisted that they have lunch at The Clubhouse today had Cameron’s mind spinning with possibilities.
She couldn’t blame her. She’d had had a lot on her mind after her date with Alex. It was like they turned a corner and they changed from being two parents of girls who were friends to… what? She couldn’t put her finger exactly on how she would define her relationship with Alex. And that’s likely what Mom was picking up on.
“Did you order our sandwiches?” Mom’s voice shocked Cameron. She hadn’t heard her approach the table. Mom pulled out the wrought-iron chair and settled into the chair next to Cameron.
“Yeah. They said they’d be a few minutes.”
Mom sipped her glass of water and studied the eclectic décor om the outdoor patio of The Clubhouse. Cameron always enjoyed discovering what new unique and sometimes well-loved item the owners had added to the overflowing wrought-iron and glass shelves that were scattered throughout the space.
But Mom hadn’t said anything. Hadn’t given a clue as to why she suggested they have lunch today. That wasn’t like Mom—she typically made her feelings very clear so there was no question what she was thinking. But she hadn’t said a word.
“Okay, I can’t stand it anymore. Just say it.”
Mom fiddled with her napkin like Cameron had just asked if the sky were blue. “Say what?”
“Whatever it is that prompted you to suggest we have lunch today.”
“What if I just wanted to have lunch with my daughter?”
Maybe Cameron had misjudged the situation. She’d been on edge the past few days and perhaps had projected her stress.
She covered Mom’s hand with her own. She never wanted Mom to think she took her support for granted. Mom had been a lifesaver in the dark days after Josh’s death. “I’m sorry, Mom. I think it’s a great idea to have lunch today. And the weather is perfect to sit outside. We won’t have too many more fall days like this before it gets too cold. I’m not looking forward to another frigid winter like last year.”
Mom shivered. “Me neither. But since you bring it up… you haven’t told me about your date with Alex on Saturday.”
There it was. Cameron should have expected Mom to wait until Cameron relaxed before bringing up Alex. “I don’t know what there is to tell.”
Mom looked at her like she did when Cameron was a little girl and fibbing about whether she’d cleaned her room or taken the last cookie. “Now, sweetheart, I think there’s plenty to tell. That man has been coming around for weeks now and I’ve been watching how you’ve changed during that time. And then you came home on Saturday night looking like a major weight had been lifted off your shoulders and a cloud had been erased from your eyes.”
Okay, so mom had noticed. “Well, I didn’t get a chance to thank you for the sandwiches with the crusts cut off and the juice boxes in the picnic.”
Mom chuckled. “That was all the girls. They wanted to do something special and that word takes on a different meaning to a ten-year-old. I made sure you guys had the wine, right?”
“You did mom. Thanks.”
“So where did he take you?”
Mom got a dreamy look on her face. “I love walking around the mall at dusk, the sun casting long through the leaves of those old trees that line the paths as it sinks over the river, the solemnness of the spotlights that illuminate the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorials once it gets dark.”
“It was really special. We spread the blanket out under a tree and we just sat and talked.”
“And is that what has you troubled?”
Troubled? Is that the word she’d struggled to come up with to describe her evening? “No, not troubled exactly. Pensive. Introspective. We talked, just really talked. I told him about Josh and he talked about Maria. He was overseas when she died. I can’t imagine being halfway across the world and receiving that phone call. He was frantic because Mariana was back in the states.”
“That poor man. What a horrible thing to happen.”
“I know. It was heart-wrenching to hear what he had to go through. Thankfully, he was able to get leave from the Army to come home, but it took him days to make all the connections.” She paused as a waitress slid their sandwiches onto the table and then left again. “He opened up to me in a way I hadn’t expected. You know Josh never wanted to talk about serious or emotional things. He always said he left the serious stuff to me.”
Cameron fiddled with the wrapper on her sandwich and then took a big bite. The interruption gave her a chance to organize her thoughts a little better.
“When I first met Alex, he was wearing his uniform and, in my mind, I thought he would be just like Josh. Someone who liked to have fun and take risks and leave the emotional stuff to someone else.”
“But you saw a different side to Alex this weekend?”
She shook her head. “No. Well, yes and no. I think from the beginning, I knew that Alex was different. Yeah, he’s in the Army and he’s served in combat and that changes a man. But while he likes the outdoors and doing physical things, he’s not looking for his next outrageous adventure like Josh. And Alex doesn’t keep his feelings bottled up.”
“Sounds like you guys got to know each other a lot better. And I dare say that maybe you like this man.”
“I do… but I’m scared.”
“Of loving him or anyone and losing them. Like I lost Josh.”
Mom’s hand covered hers. “Oh, honey, you can’t let the fear of loss prevent you from taking a chance on love.”
“But what if I let myself fall in love with Alex and then something happens. He is in the Army. He says he’s stationed here for good now, but what if that changes and he has to go back overseas? I don’t know if I can bear going through that again. And there’s Lizzie to think about. She barely remembers Josh and she still feels his loss. And I know part of that is because she needs a male role-model in her life and she’s latched onto Alex in that regard. Oh, Mom, I just don’t know what to do.”
Cameron flopped her head into her arms on the table. Putting all of her fears out there had drained her.
She felt Mom’s hand on her back, rubbing her shoulders and comforting her. “Cameron, look at me.”
She lifted her head and met Mom’s gaze.
“You’ve been happier recently. Since you met Alex. Since you’ve started spending time with him, even if that time is in the presence of two precocious ten-year-olds. But I think the girls have the right idea. Alex is a good man, he’s a good father, and your daughters get along. If you ask me, that sounds like a good foundation to build a relationship on. I’m not saying you can’t be cautious, but unless you planned to spend the rest of your life alone, you have to give yourself permission to be happy. Permission to fall in love again. And personally, I think Alex is the perfect man to explore a potential relationship with.”
Mom took a bite of her sandwich and sipped at her iced tea like she hadn’t just completely turned Cameron’s life upside down. But Cameron couldn’t disagree with Mom’s words. Or the butterflies that had taken up residence in her belly any time Alex turned a heated gaze her way. Maybe Mom was right and it was time to shove her fears down and take a chance.