Levi’s doorbell rang almost simultaneously with his cell phone vibrating on the bedside table.
“What the heck?” Levi must have fallen back to sleep. They could blame jetlag or just the complete disregard for the need to rejoin society. Ten o’clock. Mid-morning. Who would be ringing his doorbell? The caller ID read Whitney Stephenson. He answered with mild disorientation. “Mom?”
“Come answer the door for your mother.” Her voice didn’t sound angry, more like excited.
Levi cleared his throat and glanced over at the angel beside him, whose eyes were barely opened and a sleepy smile on her face. Sheets and blankets tangled his legs to hers, joining them, even in sleep. A wet towel lay on the floor beside the bed and Tiani’s hair was strings of matted tangles. Oops. “I’m without apparel at the moment.”
“Well, get out of bed and put some clothes on,” his mom said. “I want to see my daughter-in-law.”
“Only her?” Levi leaned down to kiss Tiani’s lips before untangling himself from her and sliding to the edge of the bed. “Didn’t miss your son at all?”
“Oh, phooey, I’ve known you all your life. I want to spend time with Tiani.”
“I was actually going to call you today.” Levi set the phone beside him and turned on speakerphone so he could dig through his drawer for a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. He found his smallest pair of workout shorts and handed them to Tiani along with the smallest T-shirt he owned. “We need your help shopping.”
“Ooh! I love shopping. Now come open the door.”
“Unless you want to see parts of me you haven’t seen since you stopped changing my diapers, you’ll have to wait a minute.” He stopped speaking English for a moment and spoke to Tiani in Yucatec. “My mom is here and wants to take us shopping. You can wear my clothes for a few minutes if you want.”
Tiani picked up the shorts and T-shirt and brought them to her face, closing her eyes as she inhaled deeply. She pulled them under the covers with her and snuggled into the pillow, holding them like a security blanket.
“You keep that up and we’ll never make it to the store.” Levi leaned closer and she giggled, trying to pull him back down onto the bed. He resisted. Barely. “I have to go let my mother in the door. You get dressed, young lady.”
“Do I have to?” Tiani pouted.
“I’m sure my mother doesn’t want to see you naked any more than she wants to see me naked.”
“You’re no fun.” She finally sat up and Levi was distracted again by her upper half now completely exposed. He whimpered and almost told his mom to come back in an hour.
“We can have fun later.” He leaned closer and gave her one more lingering kiss, forgetting he was still on speaker phone.
“Levi Stephenson, stop making out with your wife and come open the door for your mother.”
Levi groaned and pulled himself off the bed, slipping on a pair of sweats and bringing his shirt with him. He pulled the bedroom door shut to give Tiani a bit of privacy while she got dressed and he headed down the stairs to open the front door.
“Good morning, mother,” Levi said, opening the door and ending the call in one sweeping motion.
“You’re not even dressed yet.” His mom pushed past him, entering the living room as if she owned the condo. “Put a shirt on. Where’s my daughter-in-law?”
“In bed,” Levi told her. “Where I should be. Also not dressed. Again, which I should be.”
“Oh, give me a break,” she said. “You’ve been married over a month. Don’t you think it’s time you came up for air?”
“No.” Levi reluctantly slipped a shirt over his head.
“I brought food.” She held up a grocery sack. “I figured you probably didn’t have any groceries in the house after being gone all winter. I can cook us some omelets.” She started opening cabinets and drawers to find the tools she needed, and Levi’s stomach growled as if on cue.
“Oh, thank goodness,” Levi said. “I’m starving. The last time I ate was dinner on the plane yesterday.”
“Well, airplane food is barely considered food,” she said. “That’s not enough to sustain a growing boy.”
“Mom, I’m thirty, and we took a private jet with a catering chef on board. I think I’ll live.” He pulled up a stool and watched his mother pull out all the things she needed and begun cracking eggs into a bowl. “We need your help. Tiani needs clothes and something called lemongrass oil for her hair. Plus, whatever else women need. I’m clueless.”
Tiani came down the stairs, hesitantly entering the kitchen and crossing the room to where Levi sat. He pulled her into his arms and had to remind himself that his mother was visiting.
“Oh! Sweetie, what happened to your hair?” His mom abandoned her workstation and pulled Tiani from Levi’s arms, lifting the snarled masses off her shoulders as if picking up the pieces of a broken China doll. “You poor thing.”
“Told you we need your help,” Levi said.
“You should have called me sooner,” she scolded her son.
“Trust me, you would not have wanted to be here any sooner this morning. There are reasons why her hair is a snarled mess and those reasons are not politely discussed in mixed company.”
“I’m in love.” Levi sighed and held Tiani’s gaze. She was too enamored to ask him to translate but he switched to Yucatec anyway. “My mom’s going to help you with your hair.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Tiani said in Yucatec, then turned to her mother-in-law, switching to Spanish. “Gracias.”
“I think I have a comb in my purse that we can use this morning and then buy one for you at the store later.” She continued lifting matted strands of hair from Tiani’s shoulders, smiling at her and completely forgetting she was supposed to speak in Spanish.
He realized that entire conversation had been in English. “Mom, do you know how to speak Spanish?”
“Oh course,” she said. “I was a refugee social worker in Belize for years.” She seemed to realize her mistake and shifted to Spanish, apologizing to Tiani. Levi wondered how many times he’d need to remind her.
He redirected her attention back to the task at hand, cooking breakfast. “Can we eat first?” Levi asked. “Your son is starving, remember?”
“How about if you make the omelets,” his mom said. “And I’ll spend time with this beautiful wife of yours?”
“Unless you want a frozen meal warmed up in the microwave, or a protein shake, you might want to do the cooking yourself,” Levi said. “Please, Mommy?”
“Oh, so I’m Mommy again when you want food.” She laughed. “I see how you are.”
Levi pulled Tiani away and pointed his mom toward the kitchen counter where she was almost done chopping green peppers and onions.
Levi saw a loaf of bread in the grocery sack, which was now tipped on its side, exposing the contents. He lifted Tiani onto the stool where he’d been sitting and crossed the room to start some toast. His mom had even remembered to bring butter and jelly. Pulling glasses from the cabinet, he poured some juice for each of them then set the table with plates and napkins and forks.
Tiani was his mom’s captive audience, watching as she poured the beaten eggs into the heated pan, the butter sizzling along the edges.
Like an expert chef, his mom lifted the sides of the omelet, letting the uncooked egg flow down and around the outside, then moving on to the next side, then the next. The result was a fluffy cloud of egg that she flipped with a twitch of her wrist. She sprinkled shredded cheddar onto the eggs, added the chopped onions and peppers, and folded one half over the other.
Just as she slipped the masterpiece onto a platter, the toast popped and Levi lifted each piece from the toaster and spread butter over the crispy bread, then a thin layer of jelly. He took a plate from the cupboard, added a slice of toast and a portion of the omelet, then set them on the table along with a glass of juice.
Holding out his hand to help Tiani off the stool, he guided her over to the table and held out the chair for her. His mom prepared the other two plates and Levi helped carry them to the table before sitting beside his wife.
Before taking her seat, his mom reached into her purse and pulled out a scrunchie. She stood behind Tiani and gathered her hair back to keep it from getting in her food.
Tiani leaned her head back to look up at her mother-in-law and thanked her, then picked up her fork and took a bite of the omelet. She stopped chewing a second and Levi was afraid she was going to spit it back out and say she didn’t like it. Instead she moaned and said in Yucatec, “This is so good!”
Levi turned to his mom. “She loves it.”
“Oh, good! I’m so glad.” His mom clapped her hands together once, then forgetting herself, repeated the sentiment in Spanish.
Realizing her mistake as well, Tiani repeated her compliment in Spanish.
And just like that, his mom and Tiani were new besties.