Lois Cloarec Hart
It was her great-grandmother’s cup, now the last surviving dish of a set that had been carefully packed a century before for a journey from the Old World to the New. The porcelain was wafer-thin and chipped, and the hand-painted English roses had long ago lost their lustre, but Meredith cherished it. She had hoped to pass it along to her only daughter, and then, God willing, to see it in the hands of a granddaughter some day.
Now, as they had done so often in the past, she cradled the teacup with hands that had surrendered the smooth suppleness of youth. Fragrant steam curling up from the old cup whispered around Meredith’s face as she bowed her head, stubbornly fighting the tears that had threatened to overwhelm her time and again on this terrible morning.
The dreams she had nourished since her daughter Danielle’s birth thirty-six years before had just been shattered in one bitter confrontation. What was it called? Oh yes, “coming out”. It was such an innocuous phrase for the words that had left her heartsick, and as bereft as if her youngest child had just died.
After presenting her husband with three sons, Meredith had been delighted when their fourth and final child was a girl. She’d had no illusions about her own place in the universe: she would not change the world; her name would not outlive her; she would leave no legacy but her children and their children. And that was fine with her.
She knew that inevitably her boys would forget the old tales she had told them as youngsters, but she had faith her daughter would carry her mother’s stories on to the next generation. That had always been the only immortality of the women in her family.
Meredith was satisfied to be what she was: a devoted, God-fearing wife and mother, living a quiet, unspectacular life in the suburbs. She loved her stolid husband and boisterous sons, but though she strove to be an even-handed parent, she had always reserved a special love for her youngest child. She wondered now if God was punishing her for that — for loving her daughter more profoundly and powerfully than she loved her Heavenly Father.
“Please...don’t take her away from me.”
It was a prayer...it was a plea...it was her heart speaking directly to the God she had worshipped devoutly all her life, but the only sound in the kitchen was the steady ticking of the old clock over the sink. No sense of peace filled her; no sudden insight illuminated her thoughts; time did not roll back; and the sound of her daughter slamming out of the kitchen vowing not to set foot in her mother’s house again until Hell froze over still echoed in her ears.
A tiny, bitter smile, no more than a barely distinguishable quirk of her lips, broke the frozen planes of Meredith’s face. Dani had always been volatile, so unlike her staid parents. All of her children had inherited a mercurial temperament, though God only knew from whom. It had been a source of both frustration and intrigue to the older woman, as she watched her exuberant brood grow and thrive.
How she, the epitome of peaceful domesticity, had borne and raised such a pack of extroverts was beyond her, but she was proud of every one of them, especially the daughter who overachieved her way into an early high school graduation and a plethora of scholarships to the colleges of her choice.
In the years that followed, while her brothers embarked on more traditional paths of careers and marriages, Dani traversed the globe, acquiring degrees and taking up new professions as easily as most people took up golf. She had a restless energy never satisfied by conventional measures of success, and no six-figure income, impressive title, or corner office ever appeared to sate her inner drive.
Dani’s return to her hometown the previous year had shocked Meredith. Convinced that it would only be a matter of time before her vagabond daughter moved on again, she resolved to simply enjoy the younger woman’s presence for as long as she was in the area. Much to her surprise, Dani had apparently settled quite contentedly into a job advocating for literacy and educational opportunities for underprivileged youth.
Her daughter quickly reintegrated with a circle of old friends and her brothers’ families, and appeared to genuinely enjoy the abundance of nieces and nephews that inundated every family gathering. It gave Meredith hope that perhaps her daughter was finally ready to settle down and raise her own family. She tentatively suggested a few nice, church-going men as potential dates, but Dani gently stonewalled her, good-naturedly informing her mother that she was perfectly capable of managing her own social life.
Unwilling to push, Meredith backed off, and resorted to listening carefully at family functions to glean bits of information. It wasn’t that her daughter was particularly reticent, but eavesdropping generally produced a fuller picture than Dani’s edited version of her daily life. As the fly on the wall, she learned about the joys and frustrations of her daughter’s work. She became well informed on the abysmal record of her daughter’s softball team, and she now knew in intimate detail about her daughter’s Doberman’s abscess, but there was nary a word about any gentlemen callers.
If Dani talked about anyone, it was her best friend, Adrienne. They had picked up their childhood friendship again with an ease at which Meredith marveled, given the nineteen-year lapse in their relationship.
Rising from the table, Meredith carried the teacup to the sink and watched the amber stream swirl down the drain, her mind finally contemplating the realities she had nervously ignored for so long.
Adrienne was the only child of her best friend, Iris, who lived right next door. As young wives, Meredith and Iris had both moved into a brand new subdivision forty years earlier, and through the years they forged an iron-clad friendship. Both would drop everything to help in emergencies, and they had each honoured the other in naming their daughters.
Meredith had been there for Iris through the sorrow of two miscarriages before her friend was finally able to have Adrienne. And it was Iris who had called the ambulance and stayed right with Meredith the day her husband, Gary, collapsed in the backyard with a non-fatal heart attack. Meredith had been prepared to provide moral support for her best friend when Adrienne confessed her orientation to her mother the day after high school graduation, but Iris hadn’t needed the traditional consolation of chocolate-iced brownies and a friendly shoulder to cry on. She cheerfully accepted her daughter’s pronouncement, and through the years had even occasionally fixed up her mortified child with eligible young women, though to Meredith’s knowledge, Adrienne had remained resolutely unattached.
Iris had confided that she had been sure that Adrienne was gay pretty much from the moment she was sent home from school for beating up a bully who preyed on the other girls for their lunch money. Privately, Meredith had shaken her head, as she had done many times as she watched her best friend’s liberal, laid back, free thinking, child rearing practices. She would never have openly criticized Iris but, though she suppressed it firmly, she couldn’t help feeling the slightest tinge of moral superiority when comparing her more conventional children to Adrienne.
Iris’s daughter had been the neighbourhood tomboy and had endlessly instigated adventures through the fields and playgrounds of their children’s youth. Despite the age difference, Meredith’s three sons, Brad, Bill, and Brian, had followed Adrienne’s lead as eagerly as Dani.
Staring out the window at the neatly cut lawn and the hedge that separated Iris’s back yard from her own, Meredith grimly forced herself to re-evaluate Dani’s childhood. There had been piano lessons and dance recitals, and pretty, frilly dresses to wear to birthday parties and church, but for all the trappings of femininity, Dani had been as much of a tomboy as her best friend, Adrienne.
She was more likely to be found playing road hockey with her brothers than amusing herself with the profusion of dolls that generally ended up discarded under her bed. The selection of make-up that her mother bought her for her sixteenth birthday went untouched, discovered by Meredith years later at the back of her daughter’s sock drawer. Dani had been furious when her brothers had all gotten BB guns one Christmas, and she had not. Against her mother’s orders, she had cajoled her middle brother, Billy, into teaching her how to shoot out in the woods behind the subdivision. In her last year at home, she showed up after school one day on an old motorbike she had bought with the entirety of her hard-earned savings. When her parents demanded that she get rid of it, she fought them tooth and nail. She lost, but circumvented their orders by keeping the bike inside an abandoned barn several miles away. She rode it surreptitiously until the day she left home for college, when she sold it to Billy for a hundred and fifty dollars.
Meredith shook her head ruefully. The first thing Dani had done on settling back into her hometown was to conscript Adrienne into chauffeuring her to all the local motorcycle dealerships, until she found a huge black and silver bike that she handled with ease, but which scared her mother half to death. And as always, as she had been all throughout their childhood, Adrienne was Dani’s staunch ally, cagey confidante, and gleeful co-conspirator.
The two friends were as inseparable now as they had been as children. You just couldn’t keep those two apart. Meredith’s memory turned to the countless times the best friends had begged their mothers to have sleepovers. Had they... No, she didn’t want to know.
Seizing a dishrag, she dampened it and briskly scrubbed at the already pristine counters. She really didn’t want to know about it at all, but Dani had made that impossible today by forcing her to confront the truth she would never have accepted on her own.
Painfully, her mind resurrected every detail of the morning’s conversation...
The old screen door screeched, and Meredith paused in finishing up the breakfast dishes to see her daughter burst through the door. Amused as always by Dani’s inability to enter a room quietly, she smiled at the younger woman.
“Good morning, sweetie. You just missed your father. He’s gone over to help Brad and the boys work on the new deck. I know it’s not the best way to spend a Saturday, but I thought for sure you’d be joining them. Heaven only knows you’re handier with a hammer than Brian and Bill.”
Her youngest shook her head. “Maybe later, Mom.” Pulling out a chair, she dropped into it, and Meredith winced at the sound of the wood creaking as Dani leaned back on two legs.
“Oh, honey, please don’t do that. One of these days it’s going to snap and you’ll end up breaking a bone or something, too.”
Obediently Dani rocked forward and planted her elbows on the table, folding her hands under her chin as she eyed her mother’s preparations for tea. Meredith chatted amiably as she turned on the kettle and, as always when it was just the two of them, pulled out the last two cups of great-grandmother Abigail’s set. It was only as she poured the water over the bags that she realized her daughter had been uncharacteristically quiet, letting her mother carry the bulk of the conversation.
Curious now, she set a cup in front of Dani and pushed the box of sugar cubes toward her. Settling into a chair across from her daughter, she sipped her tea and waited. She was surprised when the younger woman merely toyed with her tea and didn’t say anything. Typically, within moments of sitting down at her mother’s table, Dani would’ve blurted out whatever was on her mind. As she watched her daughter suck in a deep breath, Meredith became concerned.
“Honey? Is something wrong?”
A slow smile played across Dani’s face. “No, actually something is very, very right, and it’s time to tell you about it.”
Meredith was startled by the gentle glow in her daughter’s eyes and the radiant smile on her lips. She had never seen Dani so suffused with happiness. Suddenly, she bolted upright in her chair.
“Oh, my heavens! Danielle Iris, you’ve found someone!” Leaning forward, she covered her daughter’s hand with her own. “Oh, honey, that’s wonderful! Now tell me all about him. Who is he? Where did you meet him? Is he a local boy? Do I know him?”
Dani laid one hand over her mother’s and squeezed gently. “I have found someone, Mom. Someone I love like I’ve never loved anyone else in my life. Someone I want to spend the rest of my life with, and...” she met Meredith’s gaze directly, “...someone who feels the same way about me.”
“Sweetheart, that’s just wonderful. Tell me all about him. I want to know everything.”
Shifting uneasily, Dani’s gaze swept the kitchen, and Meredith was puzzled by the younger woman’s underlying nervousness. Patiently she waited, determined to accept her daughter’s choice, even as she prayed that he wasn’t a married man or someone equally unsuitable. When Dani remained silent, she probed gently. “Honey? Talk to me.”
Abruptly, Dani stood and circled the kitchen until she came to rest with her back against the fridge. Crossing her arms and bracing her legs, she stared at her mother. Despite the unmistakable defiance in her eyes, Dani’s voice was low. “Mom, I’m going to tell you everything, but you have to promise to hear me out, okay? No flying off the handle halfway through. Promise?”
Somewhat insulted, since she did not consider herself an irrational or unreasonable woman, Meredith nodded her head. She was growing increasingly concerned at the way her daughter was treating what she had assumed would be a joyful announcement.
When Dani began to worry at her thumbnail, Meredith knew something wasn’t right, but she stilled her instinct to cross the room and wrap her daughter in a reassuring hug. Whatever it was, they would work it out together. There was no problem her daughter could bring to her that they couldn’t resolve somehow.
“Mom...” Dani stopped, then tried again. “Mom, there’s something I’ve been keeping from you for a long time. I didn’t really think there was any need to tell you because there were always thousands of miles between home and wherever I was at the moment. And I probably took the path of least resistance. As Billy would say, I was being a goddamned, lily-livered, yellow-bellied poltroon.”
Meredith couldn’t help a smile. She couldn’t begin to count the number of times she had chastised her middle son for his unusual and colourful language as a boy. He delighted in finding insults that his buddies wouldn’t understand, and frequently practiced them on his siblings, at least out of his mother’s earshot.
Dani grinned too, and seemed to draw strength from the shared family memory. “Anyway, as I said, it didn’t matter…until I moved back here. Mom, at some level you’ve probably known this for a long time, but I need to make it official, so to speak. I need to be honest with you because I have to be honest with her.”
Confused, Meredith shook her head. “Her? Who’s her, honey? What are you talking about? I thought you said you’d met the man you wanted to...”
Then the pieces of the puzzle slid tidily into place, and Meredith sucked in an anguished breath, staring at her daughter as dread settled in her stomach.
“It’s Adrienne, Mom. We’re in love, and we’re planning to spend the rest of our lives together. She’s the one I’ve been looking for all these years.” Softly, as if amused at the irony, Dani added, “And she was waiting for me right here in my own backyard. Talk about clueless.”
Meredith choked out, “But you’re not like...her. You’re not —”
“Yeah, Mom, I am. I always have been; I just never told you.”
Dani’s voice was unyielding, but Meredith felt like she desperately needed to reason with her daughter, to reach her logically and rationally, and all would be right again. Buying time as she mustered an offense, she blurted out, “Why?”
Sighing, Dani pushed herself away from the fridge and returned to her seat at the table. “Why what, Mom? Why am I a lesbian? Why didn’t I tell you as soon as I figured it out for myself? Why Adrienne? Why now?”
Disturbed by the shrillness of her own voice but unable to modulate it, Meredith cried out, “All of those! Why, Dani, why?”
The younger woman shook her head wearily. “Some things just don’t have answers, Mom. It took me a long time to come to grips with it myself, and then it just felt too private to share. As for Adrienne, I think we both knew there was pretty powerful chemistry between us, but as long as I was only breezing through for visits, we never did anything about it. Once I moved back here, it was like we picked up where we’d left off. We became best of friends again, and then we became more. Now we’re talking about buying a house and moving in together, so it’s time to tell our families.”
Meredith stood so abruptly that her chair toppled over. The words that streamed out of her mouth shocked her, but she was helpless to stop them.
“No! I won’t have it! You’re not like Adrienne. She’s...she’s...seduced you. You always followed her around like a puppy dog, and now she’s using that to fool you into thinking you’re something you’re not. You have to get away from her influence, Danielle. You have to pull yourself out of her circle. She’s bewitched you, honey. Don’t let her do this to you. She’s depraved. You’re so much better...”
Dani stared at her mother, open-mouthed, face blank with shock at the attack on her lover. Then galvanized, she jumped to her feet, kicking her chair back as she planted her hands on the table. Eyes blazing, she roared at her mother, “Don’t you dare talk about her that way. Depraved? You’ve known her all her life. How can you say that? She’s the kindest, most loving woman I’ve ever known, and I thank God every day that she waited for me to come to my senses.”
“God? Don’t you dare invoke His name to dignify this perversion of all that’s right and good and normal!”
The two women screamed the searing words across the table, both furiously refusing to back down, and both knowing intimately how to wound the other.
“Who are you to define normal? You’ve never even left this podunk place to see there’s a whole world out there beyond your narrow vision! There are millions of people like Adrienne and me, and all the bigots and all the invocations in the world aren’t going to make us disappear. I don’t give a flying fuck if you approve of us or not. I’m not going to live my life in some rigid little box defined by a book of fairy stories written by a bunch of ancient misogynists.”
“Don’t you use that kind of language to me, young lady. This is still my home, and I will not have God’s word blasphemed by someone who has clearly lost her way. If you’re so blessed proud of who you are, then why have you run and hidden yourself for all these years? I think you’re ashamed. Ashamed and well aware that what you’re doing is wrong. Well, you’re right — it is wrong. And I don’t care who she is, no girlfriend of yours is ever going to be welcome under this roof.”
A small voice within struggled to be heard, warning Meredith she was going too far — saying things that would be difficult if not impossible to take back, but she didn’t care. A profound sense of betrayal drove her tongue, and it was only when Dani swept her cup off the table in one furious motion, sending it shattering across the floor, that shock deflated her rage and her fury began to ebb. But before she could utter any conciliatory words, her daughter spun away and strode to the back door. With icy precision, she threw one last gibe over her shoulder.
“If my lover is not welcome here, then it’ll be a cold day in Hell before I ever set foot in this house again.”
With that, Dani stormed out, slamming the screen door with such force that Meredith momentarily thought it would come off its hinges.
Her daughter had called another woman her lover. Numb, Meredith listened to the roar of Dani’s bike racing down the alley, then she righted her chair and sank into it.
The little mop-haired girl from next door who had bounded into her kitchen countless times looking for her best friend and Meredith’s homemade cookies was now her daughter’s lover.
Her mind simply couldn’t wrap itself around that knowledge, so she forced herself to say it. “Dani is...Dani is a lesbian. Dani and Adrienne are lovers. They are in love...with each other.”
Saying it out loud didn’t make it any easier to believe or accept, so she tried it several more times.
The words hung in the air, like balloons that had lost most of their helium, and still her heart refused to allow the truth in.
She had no idea how long she sat there, numb and exhausted by the emotional confrontation, but eventually her gaze drifted to the shards of porcelain littering the kitchen floor. She forced herself to rise and tear off paper towels to mop up the spilled tea. As she pulled the broom and dust pan out of the closet, her mind turned to the time her sons had broken six of the cups at once when an errant football smashed into her china cabinet.
Meredith had been furious at the boys for shattering the irreplaceable antiques, and had grounded the lot of them for two weeks. She grieved the losses and carefully stowed the last two cups on the uppermost shelf of her kitchen cabinets. The cups were only brought out to share tea with Iris, and later, when she was grown, with Dani.
Now, as she delicately picked up the larger fragments, and swept the tiny slivers into the pan, she felt a far greater loss, even as she righteously struggled to cling to the remnants of her wrath. Finally abandoning the dustpan, she dropped the broom and, remaining crouched, wrapped her arms around her knees as she rocked back and forth, fighting for control of her careening emotions and determined not to break down.
As she mechanically wrung out the dishrag and draped it over the edge of the sink, Meredith wondered if she would ever feel normal again. She was glad Gary and the boys were occupied all day building Brad’s deck, because it was taking everything she had to hold herself together, and she couldn’t face the inevitable questions once her husband saw how distraught she was.
Lost in her depression, Meredith barely noticed the light tapping on the screen door, but groaned inwardly when the door creaked open. Without turning around, she said, “I don’t know why you even bother to knock, Iris.”
A familiar voice sounded softly behind her. “I wasn’t going to take the chance you’d tell me to keep out.”
“Mmm hmm. Addy called me a few minutes ago. Dani’s over at her place crying her eyes out, so I figured you wouldn’t be in much better shape.” A chair scraped, and Meredith heard her old friend sit down at the table. “Got any of that tea left?”
Automatically putting the still warm kettle on to boil again, Meredith refused to turn around, only asking bitterly, “Did you know?”
Iris sighed deeply. “I knew.”
That stung. “How long?”
Her best friend couldn’t help a rueful laugh. “Oh, Merry, I’ve seen the way Addy looks at Dani since they were kids. I expect I’ve known longer than they have. However, if you mean how long have I known they’re a couple, then I guess it’s been about four months.”
Meredith flinched. A couple. Was that really how her best friend saw their daughters? Well, it was easier for Iris. She’d had years to adjust to the idea of her daughter being a...
Grimacing, Meredith pulled a couple of mugs out of the cupboard and wordlessly set them on the table. Iris raised one eyebrow at the unusual selection, then her eyes fell on the dustpan, which sat abandoned on the floor.
“Aw shit, Mer. I’m sorry. One of your grandmother’s cups, eh? How’d it happen?”
The warmth in her friend’s voice — the sympathy Meredith had relied on for more years than she could remember — was almost more than she could bear, and she stood rigidly, hands wrapped tightly around the top rung of a chair.
“Dani. She broke it.”
Wisely, Iris did not rise to offer one of her usual hugs. Meredith felt so brittle, she was sure that if her friend touched her, she would shatter just like the cup.
“She must have been very angry. She knows what those cups mean to you.”
Stiffly, Meredith pulled out the chair and sat down. Fixing Iris with a gaze that was both angry and accusatory, she snapped, “You have a gift for understating the obvious.”
Her friend didn’t even flinch. “Merry, we have to talk about this. I know you’re in shock. I know you’re hurting and confused.”
“How could you possibly know those things? You were the one who was ready to throw your daughter a party when she announced she was gay. How could you possibly relate to how I feel? Did you feel like you’d been kicked in the stomach by a Clydesdale? Did you see all your dreams go up in smoke in one instant?”
Iris sighed, but didn’t back off. “No mother wants to see her child have to endure being an outsider in a world that persecutes those who are different. I knew Addy was going to have a hard go of it, and my heart ached for her on that account. There’s no way I was going to make her life any tougher by not being as supportive as I could, but don’t you think there have been times when I’ve thought how much easier it would’ve been if she’d fallen for Brad or Bill? Of course I have. But she didn’t have a choice, Merry, and neither does Dani. We do. We have the choice of accepting our children as they are, or turning away, hurting them and ourselves. Don’t turn away, hon. I know how much you love your kids. Don’t think you can cut one of them off without feeling like you’re cutting out your own heart.”
Furious at how out of control she felt, Meredith felt the pain overwhelm her again and she struggled to suppress the tears. She was undone when Iris reached in her pocket and pulled out a tissue, pushing it across the table with an affectionate smile.
“’S okay. Go ahead and let it out. I can guarantee you it won’t be the last time our kids make us cry.”
The sight of those loving eyes regarding her with endless patience and understanding finally loosened the rigid check Meredith had been maintaining on her emotions. She had no idea how long she cried, but was aware that at some point Iris snagged a box of tissues and handed them to her one by one. When the torrent finally eased, she couldn’t help a watery smile at the mound of spent tissues piled in front of her.
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll put our egg money into Kleenex stock next month,” Iris teased lightly, her eyes watching Meredith closely. “Feeling a bit better?”
Meredith sighed deeply. She couldn’t deny that while the bout of tears had left her drained, she no longer felt as brittle. An exhausted peace had settled over her.
Several more tissues mopped up the remains of the crying jag, while Iris poured them both some strong tea. Raising their mugs, they tapped them together in a deep, unspoken understanding.
Over the years they had met in one kitchen or the other to deal with the endless quandaries their children presented them. Together, they had negotiated the mazes of childhood and youth, stronger for their differences but united when it came to loving their children and wanting the best for them.
After several long, bracing swallows, Meredith opened her heart to her best friend. “You know I love Adrienne like one of my own, don’t you, Iris?”
Her friend smiled and nodded. “You might as well have. Dunno how you could tell her from the rest of your brood half the time anyway.”
Meredith laughed at that. It was true. Adrienne had merged seamlessly with her children, and there was always room for one more — whether they were heading for the lake, barbequing in the backyard, or making pull taffy on a wintry Saturday afternoon.
“She and Billy were usually the messiest two,” Meredith said in fond remembrance. Then recalling herself to the topic, she went on. “So you know it’s not that I’m objecting to Adrienne herself, right?”
“Uh huh. You’d have flown off the wall at any woman Dani fell in love with.”
Iris’ words were delivered wryly, but with a bracing undercurrent of honesty, and Meredith flushed with shame. She had behaved so badly, and even if Dani were eventually able to forgive her, she didn’t know if she would ever forgive herself. She wondered how much Adrienne had told her mother about what had happened that morning.
Embarrassed now, she couldn’t meet her friend’s eyes, until a sugar cube bounced off her shoulder. Startled, she looked up to see Iris grinning at her.
“I’ve known you, what, forty years?”
“Forty-one and a half,” Meredith mumbled.
“And in all that time, this is probably the first time you’ve gone whacko. Hell, you even sailed through ‘the pause’ without missing a step. I think you were way overdue for a psychotic episode, so don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Meredith couldn’t help a rueful snort. Psychotic episode? She guessed she deserved that.
“The point is, Mer, that this hit you out of the blue and you reacted on instinct. I know you just want what’s best for Dani, and she knows that, too.”
“Does she? My God, after what I said to her. Oh, and I was so terrible about Adrienne, too. Dani will never forgive me for what I said about her…”
“Partner,” Iris filled in helpfully. “You’re gonna have to bone up on the lingo, old friend. Dani and Addy are partners, and from what I’ve seen, they’re in it for life, so you might as well get used to it.”
“Partners.” Meredith tried the word on thoughtfully, then looked at Iris with troubled eyes. “Doesn’t it ever bother you that you won’t have any grandchildren?”
“Who says I won’t?” Iris challenged with a grin. “Now that the girls are together, they might just decide to have kids, too.”
“Kids? But how on earth...”
Iris uttered a mock groan. “That does it. I’m taking you to the next meeting of PFLAG.”
“Your Wednesday night group?”
“Yeah, PFLAG. You’ll meet people who have been in your shoes and know all that you’re feeling right now. They’re good people to talk to, and they’ll help you understand that your child’s horizon is only different, not limited.”
Chiding herself for not having paid closer attention over the years when Iris had lauded her group, and unwilling to examine the reasons that she hadn’t, Meredith returned to what was uppermost on her mind.
“What if Dani won’t ever speak to me again? What if I can’t mend our relationship after the terrible things I said?”
Her eyes filled again at the thought that she might have driven her daughter away for good, but Iris took her hand firmly and gave it a good shake.
“Now don’t you even be thinking that way. You and Dani have always been as close as Addy and me, and a fight — even a knock down, drag out, lung-screeching battle — isn’t going to change that. Good Lord, if Will and I broke up every time we had a brouhaha, we’d never have made it to our thirty-fifth anniversary.”
Meredith couldn’t help smiling at the mention of her friend’s late husband. They had had a passionate, but oft times volatile relationship, and she had hosted both of them in her guest room on occasions when they were too furious with each other to spend the night in the same house.
Iris looked at her speculatively, then walked to the sink, returning with the last antique teacup, which had been drying on the rack. Setting it carefully between them, she sat down again.
“Look at it like this, Mer. As fragile as this cup is, it had to travel thousands of miles and survive untold trials before ending up on your table here, a century or so later. It’s beautiful, it’s vulnerable, but as delicate as it is, it’s been a survivor. It’s also irreplaceable, so you gotta cherish it — take care of it. I don’t doubt that Dani’s hurting right now. Hell, from what Addy told me, Dani’s as big a mess as you at the moment. But your relationship isn’t going to crumble. You’re gonna have to do some work, but you two will tough it through, because to do anything else is unthinkable.”
Meredith considered her friend’s reassuring words, then sadly pointed at the pieces of the other cup still lying in the dustpan. Softly she said, “Sometimes you break things beyond repair.”
Heaving a deep sigh, Iris rolled her eyes. “Okay, screw the metaphor. All I’m saying is that you love Dani, and she loves you. Her love for Addy isn’t going to change that one bit, so as soon as you can, you reach out for her and you hold her as tight as all get out, and you tell her that no matter what, you’ll always be her mother and you’ll always love her.”
Stunned by the heartfelt passion in her friend’s voice, Meredith could only nod. She prayed she’d be given the chance to make things right.
Her words lighter now, Iris teased, “Hey, you know you should be delighted that Dani fell for the girl next door, and not some woman half a continent away. Now you can count on keeping her at home from now on.”
With a small grin, Meredith retorted, “Unless Dani convinces Adrienne to travel the world with her.” She broke out laughing at how her best friend’s face instantly fell. “I’m just pulling your leg, Iris. Dani seems very content to have settled back home again. I’m sure our girls will live here happily ever after.”
And as she said that, Meredith realized she was starting to believe it. She had a long way to go before she looked at Dani and Addy as matter-of-factly as she regarded her sons and their wives, but she thought now that she would eventually get to that place...if she could secure her daughter’s forgiveness.
Iris reached out and swatted her arm. “Don’t scare me like that, woman. I’d lose my best flea marketing partner if that daughter of mine ever moved away.” Glancing at her watch, she said, “Oops, I gotta go.” Standing, she eyed Meredith seriously. “Are you gonna be all right?”
Meredith considered the question, then slowly nodded. “I think so. I have some pretty big fences to mend with Dani, however I think we can eventually get past this morning. I’m going to give her some time to cool off before I call her though.”
“Good,” Iris said with satisfaction. Then winking, she added, “I’m guessing you’ll see Dani sooner than you expect.”
Meredith stood and rounded the table. “Oh, what? You’re a soothsayer now?”
“No, let’s just say I read the tea leaves.” Iris grinned and opened her arms to her friend. Meredith gratefully took the comfort her friend offered and squeezed the other woman tightly.
Arm in arm, they walked to the back door. As they parted, Iris took Meredith’s hands and held her gaze for a long moment. “Just remember, Merry, this is a beginning, not an ending. Addy and Dani have been friends for almost as long as you and I have, and if we’ve done anything for them, we’ve shown them how important friendship is. I think that bodes very well for the strength of their union.”
Meredith nodded, silently grateful for the steadfastness of the woman she had called her best friend all these years. She held the screen door open as she watched Iris walk along the path towards her house. Then, startled, she saw Dani come around the corner of the hedge, and she wondered if her daughter had been waiting at Iris’ house while the two older women talked.
Dani and Iris stopped to exchange hugs as they passed, and Meredith heard Iris’ words clearly.
“You’re perfect for each other, sweetie. I always knew it, and I’m so glad you do now, too. You’ve always been like a second daughter to me, and I’m thrilled to see our families united.”
Meredith saw Dani glance uneasily in her direction at those words, but Iris just shook her head. “Don’t you worry, Dani-girl. You just go on and talk to your mother. Everything’s going to be all right.”
After another hug, Iris covered the last few steps into her house, leaving Dani walking slowly towards the screen door where Meredith stood watching her.
She stopped a few feet away and said sheepishly, “I heard Satan is issuing ice skates to the denizens of Hell.”
For all the tea in China, Meredith couldn’t have stopped the smile that crossed her face, nor did she want to. She simply stood aside and held the door open for her daughter to enter. Her words were soft as Dani brushed by her. “I wasn’t sure you’d come back — certainly not so soon.”
“Addy made me,” Dani admitted as she stood awkwardly just inside the door. Her eyes fell on the dustpan, still sitting in the middle of the floor. Spinning around to face her mother, worried eyes searched the worn face. Without preliminaries, she blurted, “I’m sorry for the things I said, and I’m so sorry that I broke grandmother’s cup.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Meredith said, “but none of our words are etched in stone, and there’s still one cup left to pass on to you.”
Dani choked on sudden emotion, and her eyes glistened. “You still want me to have the cup?”
Her own eyes suspiciously damp, Meredith nodded. “Of course. Who else should it go to? Besides, who knows? You and Adrienne may have a little girl to pass it on to one day.”
And as she held her sobbing daughter tightly, Meredith decided it really was that simple. Her daughter had chosen a mate, and whether it was the one she would have chosen for her was irrelevant. It was never her choice to make, and that was fine. It was her choice to support her daughter, and that was right. Iris was correct. She could no more have cut Dani out of her life than she could have cut out her own heart.
And that was love.