Annie stopped in front of the portrait of her graduating class on the wall. She couldn’t help smiling at the younger version of herself. Close to twenty years of life had happened since the portrait had been taken. Crow’s feet accented her amber eyes, and the hairstyle changed. Otherwise, she remained the same. She still loved deeply and gave all she had. Annie laughed out loud at her lie. She power walked the halls of the school three times a week to slim down the hips widened by childbirth and her love of apple pie.
Portraits for the all the classes that attended the school lined the hall. The picture of her husband, Jesse, who graduated a year earlier hanged adjacent to hers. It was as if something meant for them to be together from the start. Only the frames from the two graduating years of 1995 and 1996 served as a boundary between them.
Her smile faded as quickly as it appeared. Like the pictures, something beyond her control separated Jesse and her. This time it was life and death. Annie shook her head to pull herself back to the present. Her brief visit down memory lane pinched less, but it still hurt. She needed to focus on what she could control—getting 10,000 steps before her son finished basketball practice.
She marched to the end of the hall, circled around, and slowed only to check her steps. Pleased with her progress of 8,432 steps she kept her eye on the prize. Jesse Jr.’s basketball practice ended in twenty minutes. She had more than enough time to get the last 1500 steps. Then she wouldn’t feel so bad about eating a piece of pie for dessert.
The gym door was open enough to allow Annie to peek through them as she made a pass to make sure practice was still in session. The screeching sound of sneakers against laminate answered her question before she watched her son touch the ground with his fingertips and sprint down the court. Annie continued her walk but hadn’t got too far.
With his face tightened in concern, Al, the school janitor, asked, “Is something bothering you?”
In the name of being polite, Annie stopped her routine to talk to Al. “I’m trying to lose weight.” Holding out her arm to show him her Fitbit, she said, “I’m at 9,112.”
“I’m sure it’d be easier if the weather were a little more cooperative.”
A boom of thunder cracked in the sky.
He rubbed the back of his neck and cast a concerned look toward the door. “Lightning in February isn’t common. My mother always said when you have lightning in the winter, a big change is about to come.”
“I could handle a big change right about now,” she tapped her thigh and giggled.
Al shook his head and joined in the laugh.
The pounding of feet running in their direction caught both of their attention. Both looked up to discover that Annie and Al stood between fifteen tired basketball players and the drinking fountain. They stepped to the side to let them pass. Her favorite player stopped in front of Annie and swiped at her water bottle. “I’ve never been gladder to see you than I am now.”
Her time to exercise had ended and her time to be mom began. Annie promised herself that she’d get those last 900 steps before she went to bed.
Coach Evans approached her while she waited on the bench. “J.R. plays just like his father,” To eliminate confusion on who they were addressing people got into the habit of calling Jesse jr. J.R. A tint of sadness mixed in with the pride in his voice. “I’m sure Jesse would be proud if he saw how J.R. turned out.”
“I see him more in J.R. as he gets older,” Annie offered a warm smile. Thankfully she was past the stage where the mention of Jesse brought tears to her eyes.
J.R. came out of the locker room with his duffel bag hanging off his left shoulder. His wavy brown hair still wet from the shower hung onto his forehead. For that brief moment, time transported Annie back to 1994, and she was outside the locker room waiting for Jesse.
“Does that mean no?” J.R.’s voice interrupted Annie’s reverie.
Annie blinked herself back to the present. “I got lost in a thought. I’m sorry what were you saying?”
J.R. frowned, and a crease formed in the middle of Coach Evan’s brow. Impatience flicked across J.R.’s face. “I asked if we could eat dinner at the Elderberry Cafe tonight. I could go for a burger.”
She wrapped her arm around her son’s shoulder. He was having as hard a time as her without his father. It had been three long years. They made it by taking it one day at a time, and when that didn’t work, they tackled life by approaching it from one minute to the next. The scent of fabric softener from his clothes combined with the soap he used made her heady. Her life wasn’t perfect. But there sure were a lot of things in it to make it worth living.
This ends the first chapter. Since the entire book is already written, I can promise that chapter two will release next Saturday morning. Until then I hope the week treats you well.