“Mom! Dad!” Asher came running across the parking lot of his apartment complex with his arms out and a huge grin. “You’re here!”
Janette felt mildly vindicated that Asher called out to his mom before his dad. However petty and childish that was, Janette needed the reassurance after Chandler had repeatedly called Asher his son. As if she had nothing to do with bringing him into the world.
The moment she had the thought, Janette immediately felt bad for wanting vindication. She and Chandler had raised their children together and had always been a team. Her guilt also stemmed from having ruined the first time Chandler had shown her any affection in weeks. What was wrong with her?
Why couldn’t she just enjoy the moment as he’d suggested? Why did she have to push for more? Why couldn’t she just be satisfied with the affection he’d shown her? She’d definitely been satisfied at the time. After almost twenty-five years of marriage, Chandler knew what she liked and didn’t like. She’d fallen asleep in his arms with a smile on her face and woken up in a very good mood. Why couldn’t she just let that good mood be enough? Why did she feel the need to force him to admit they needed to do that more often? She needed to be thankful for what they had and not angry about what they didn’t have.
Janette pushed all her guilty thoughts to the back of her mind and reached out to hug her son. “Look at you. You’re all grown up.”
“Mom, you saw me at Christmas,” Asher chided, then reached for his dad.
“Son, have you been working out again?” Chandler asked, grasping Asher’s hand in a half hug. “Look at these muscles. Your Grandpa Morgan would be proud.”
“I think of Grandpa frequently when I’m at the gym,” Asher said. Chandler’s father had won some body building competitions in his early twenties. Asher had the same build and potential. “I’ve been doing some coaching for my friends. I’m considering changing my major to do something with the intention of becoming a certified personal trainer.”
“Well, you don’t need a college degree for that,” Janette said. “Don’t you just need a certification?”
“Yes, but where else am I going to meet girls except at college?” Asher said with a straight face, then his façade broke, and he cracked. “Just kidding. I’m here to get a quality education.”
“Yeah, right.” Janette snickered. “We have three colleges within a ten-mile radius of our house where you could get a quality education. You’re here to get out of the central Michigan area and into a new pool of potential grandbaby donors.”
“Very funny, mother. Come on, I want you to meet my roommates.” Asher led them in the direction where a group of guys were congregating around a barbeque grill near the pool deck where a group of girls were conveniently sunning themselves. Not here to meet girls? Yeah, right.
Janette considered heading over in that direction and introducing herself to the girls, scoping out a potential wife for her son. Instead, she shook hands around the group of guys, meeting Dmitri, Luca, and Joey, Asher’s roommates and best friends.
The twenty-something guys were mostly standing at the grill poking at a couple of overdone steaks that had been cooked well beyond the point of being flavorful and tender. She hoped that wasn’t what they intended to serve her for dinner. Perhaps the token steaks were on the grill just to have an excuse to stand around on the pool deck flirting with girls.
One white plate sat beside the grill with raw steak juices from carrying the steaks down from the refrigerator in their apartment. Two flies fought for a position of honor near the edge of the raw bloody mess and Janette nearly gagged.
“Could I help with dinner?” Janette asked, picking up the bloody plate. She was afraid that if she didn’t get the plate away from the grill, someone would take the steaks off the grill and lay them into their own raw juices. That was food poisoning waiting to happen. “Show me to your apartment.” She started walking toward the building, hoping Asher would follow.
“Hey, Mrs. M. Can I have that plate back?” Joey called out. Mrs. M? Lovely.
“No, you may not,” she called back. “But I’ll bring you a clean plate.”
“But these steaks are going to burn in the amount of time it will take you to walk up there and back,” Joey reasoned.
“Oh, sweetie, they’re already burnt. I’ll bring you a clean plate anyway.”
“I have an idea.” Luca hurried over and took the dirty plate from Janette and walked to the pool, dunking it into the chlorinated water. He held it up and wiped the plate on his sweaty T-shirt then brought it back over to grill. “Good as new.”
Dmitri began stabbing the charred steaks and lifting them from the grill onto the now semi-clean plate.
Janette glanced at her son and saw Asher’s jaw drop at the mess his friends had made with dinner. She decided to just be direct. “What else were you planning to serve with the steaks?”
“I hadn’t gotten that far,” Asher admitted with a shrug.
“How about if I order a bunch of pizzas?” Chandler suggested, throwing Janette a lifeline. He met her gaze, and she mouthed the words, “Thank you.” He shrugged and looked away. Great. He was still mad at her.
“What do you guys like on your pizza?” Janette asked, pulling out her cell phone. “Do you have a favorite place you usually buy pizza from? How many pizzas should we get?”
Within a few minutes, the group of roommates and potential girlfriends had grown by a few more people who had wandered over from the other side of the pool deck. Guess the phrase, “Let’s order pizza,” travels well over water.
And that’s how Janette and Chandler made fast friends with ten pizzas split between fifteen hungry college kids. The dinner cost more than their hotel room that night but worth every penny. They all hung out by the pool mingling and goofing off, occasionally pushing or throwing each other into the pool. Janette took time to meet each of the girls, scrutinizing them and connecting with them. Chandler threw a football around with a couple of the guys and seemed years younger than forty-nine by mere association.
Eventually they got tired, and the crowds started to disperse. They made arrangements to meet for church the following day and Janette and Chandler headed for their car and left to find their hotel.
That night’s hotel room was not as fancy as the one they’d slept in the night before, but not as dirty as the one they’d refused to stay in.
Chandler plopped onto the king-sized bed, propped himself up on some pillows, and used the remote control to turn on the television. His message was loud and clear. He had nothing to say to her.
Janette organized her church clothes for the following morning, washed the makeup off her face, donned a pair of frumpy pajamas, and climbed under the blankets on the other side of the king-sized bed.
Neither of them said, goodnight.