Sunday, 7:20 p.m.
My son’s casual comment over the phone rivets my attention.
“Hey, Mom. Our Spring Break plans have changed. We’ll be spending Friday night at home before heading over to Panama City.”
“You’re coming home? That’s great. Who’s joining you?”
“Jim, Charles and Annie. They’d rather visit Florida than head back to snow. But — listen, Mom — we’re only spending the night. So don’t do anything special. We won’t be around.”
“Yes, yes. When are you leaving North Carolina?”
“After class on Friday. We’ll get to the house late.”
“Michael, this is such good news. I thought we wouldn’t see you until May.”
“Remember, Mom, nothing special.”
“Of course, of course. I love you.”
“Love you, too. Bye.”
Michael’s coming home! It’s just for a night, but David and I will have him with us. I’ve missed talking to him, seeing him, tousling his curly hair. Even with guests, we’ll spend time together. Guests! The house needs more cleaning than I can provide this week. I’ll hire a maid service. Where will they sleep? I flip this idea around before arriving at my solution. Two boys will sleep in Michael’s queen-size bed. Annie and the other boy in the living room, one on the couch, the other on the air mattress. This will work, I congratulate myself. They’ll be dead tired from the road trip and will fall into bed. This will work. Annie. Is she tagging along as one of the guys or is she someone’s girlfriend? Michael defended Annie last semester from her abusive, former boyfriend. Someone threw down the gauntlet, and the boys, testosterone surging, beat each other in a moonlit meadow. She’s just a friend, he explained.
Friday, 10:30 p.m.
“Hey, Mom, we’re crossing the county line. Can you order us a pizza? Large pepperoni, coke, and bread sticks. We’ll see you soon.”
Yes, yes, yes, of course. We’ll see you soon. Drive carefully.
Off goes the television. I light candles for a warm Florida welcome on a chilly night. So we wait. And listen. A car in the driveway, and David and I burst out the door.
Hugs and handshakes all around. I hold Michael tighter and longer. He’s home. And safe. They all move slowly and complain about being squished in the small car. A car that will hold four if two are midgets.
And so Spring Break tumbles through our front door. Dazed and cramped, the revelers arrive, lured by a fantasy of sin and sun.
The pizza man arrives two minutes later. Could I have timed this any better?
“Lucy and Kristie are on their way over, Mom. We’re all going out.” Sure, sure, OK, fine. Michael’s home with his friends.
Two minutes later, Lucy and Kristie, high-school buddies, rush in.
I embrace the new arrivals. “How are you? It’s so good to see you again.”
The local girls, despite the cold, are dressed for hot times. Goose bumps abound amid flash and glitter. Should I offer shawls to cover some of the exposed flesh? But the boys look pleased. Isn’t this cozy? Three boys and three girls.
“Here’s what I’m thinking about sleeping arrangements,” I begin, sitting on the sofa with Charles and Jim. In unison, they shift away from me, but continue eating. “One of you can sleep on this sofa, one on this air mattress here — it’s brand new, and two in Michael’s queen-size bed.”
“I get the sofa.” Jim stakes his claim. Annie wanders over to the air mattress, outfitted with a tropical fish comforter and sheets, and plops down. That settles it. Michael and Charles will be in the bedroom.
“Dad, we want to use the convertible tonight.”
“Absolutely. Do you need some money?”
“Yeah, sure. And we want to drive the convertible to Panama City for the week.”
“Then I’ll have to take it to the garage first thing tomorrow. It needs realignment and front tires.
What time are you leaving?”
“Whenever we get up. Maybe around lunch time.”
“Okay. It should be ready by then. But I have to drop the car with the mechanic by 7 o’clock.”
“Sounds good. We’ll be asleep,” Michael assures.
“Have fun tonight,” we call. “Don’t stay out too late. Be safe. Good-bye.” And two cars head out into the promise of paradise. With Michael’s energy gone, I’m exhausted. David and I plod down the hall to the bedroom, and I’m asleep as soon as I settle under the covers. Ten minutes later the three girls are back. Just the girls. They’re noisy, as if they own the house. They shift from the bathroom, to Michael’s bedroom, and back to the bathroom. Our door is closed and I’m bleary.
“What’s up?” I whisper to David. He listens in the dark.
“They’re slutting Annie up,” he clarifies. “She left wearing jeans and a hoody sweatshirt. They’re helping her show a little shoulder for the club.”
Saturday, 3:15 a.m.
The dogs bark and the cat’s digging in her litter box. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Why doesn’t she stop? Scratch, scratch. What in the world is she trying to bury? Wait a minute. The cat’s on our bed. What’s that noise? It’s rhythmic and continuous. Oh, honestly. Something’s going on in the living room. Soft moans. And not so soft moans. It must be Jim and Annie, our living room designees.
3:15 – 6:00 a.m.
Their stamina is amazing. The ardor continues for the next three hours, but the dogs aren’t happy. We know our two dogs bark when they are outside at night, so we never put them out. I translate their barking: “Hey, Mom, Dad . . . Something’s going on inside the house. Alert, Red Alert! We see movement. And it’s cold out here.”
We can’t go into the living room and bring the dogs through the sliding glass door because the air mattress and occupants are blocking it. David is forced to whisper orders at the dogs from our bathroom window every 15 minutes.
“Quiet. Molly, be quiet out there. Everything’s all right, Annabelle.” And they calm down for a few minutes. We’re trapped in our room and I fall back to sleep.
David decides all is quiet. “Okay,” he says, waking me. “I’ll take care of the dogs. Move their interest from what’s going on in the living room. People pounding on each other, you know? And I need to take the convertible to the mechanic. I have to find the keys.”
He leaves the bed, turns on the shower but doesn’t get in. This just serves as a signal that people are moving about — vertically. Searching for the keys, he heads to the front hallway’s key board. No keys. I catch up with him in the dining room. We scan the flat surfaces and move to the kitchen. Nothing.
David’s frustration mounts. He turns, hustles down the hall and enters Michael’s bedroom. As he steps over the baggage, he discovers three sleeping bodies in the bed: 2 female and 1 male in the middle — our son. I peer at the tableau. What mother wouldn’t want this image seared into her brain? There’s Annie on the right side of the bed. Could the other one be Kristie? Or Lucy? Their hair is so similar. Wait a minute! Annie was supposed to be on the air mattress. Who’s in the living room?
Sometimes it’s best not to think too much. I watch David pick up discarded pants and rifle through the pockets of clothing that probably don’t even belong to Michael.
Entering the living room, we see Jim asleep on the sofa, nestled peacefully under the blankets. Annie, Michael, Jim are accounted for. That leaves Charles on the air mattress with Lucy. Or Kristie. Yes, there’s a flash of female leg.
Most importantly, for the moment, all is quiet. But still no keys.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” David whispers. “This isn’t going to work if I can’t get the car to the mechanic NOW.”
He rushes out the kitchen door leading to the garage. He’s got to deal with the dogs. Stepping out into the crisp morning air with a leash, he collars Molly, rounds the house to the front door, slips in, leads her to our bedroom. He repeats the process with Annabelle. At last, peace from the barking. But familiar sounds float from the living room again. Ah, yes. Again. And the clock is ticking. David begins to grind his teeth.
We’re trapped again, this time with lively dogs. They want to eat and run about the house, poking their noses into interesting spots, and licking to affirm their love.
Still no keys, and David’s agitation grows. I worry about Jim on the sofa. Can he really sleep through everything that’s happening a few feet from him?
David picks up a manila folder and writes “KEYS?” in huge letters. We move to Michael’s bedroom, David pushing, me creeping. Three bodies in the bed, and a possible pervert charge looming if one of the girls wakes up and goes berserk. David taps Michael’s leg and shows him the sign. More asleep than awake, Michael squints. David pantomimes turning a key. Michael grunts and reaches into his pants pocket.
David’s happy because he has the keys and makes quick departure. I’m dancing a jig because my son, in bed between two young ladies, is fully clothed. He’s just sleeping! That’s all. Nothing to it. Like a litter of puppies. Speaking of dogs, they’ve escaped to the living room, licking and sniffing.
When David returns, he explains the car complication to me. I’m not interested in that. I’m more concerned with his report that the two local girls have left. Their car is gone. “There are only two bodies in the bed — Michael and Annie. And Charles has rolled off the air mattress. The quilt’s piled on the mattress, but he’s on the floor. He’s got to be exhausted. But happy.”
I have a headache. We must venture to the kitchen for aspirin. I’m still in the bedroom doorway, David a few steps ahead of me, when he spins around and demands, “Go back.” We retreat and close the door.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Charles is . . . still active.”
“But he’s alone.”
“There’s a lot of movement under the quilt. Damn, he’s randy.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! What do I say to his mom? ‘I hope your son enjoyed his visit to my home?’ ”
David undertakes a second reconnaissance mission. He tiptoes down the hall, checks his watch, and peers into the living room. He returns, shrugging his shoulders, shaking his head. We wait.
“I’m a prisoner in my own home,” he complains. “What do other parents do? I mean, I want guests to feel comfortable, but not to think they’re at a frat house.” After his third mission, he flings open the bedroom door, and blurts out the news:
“Charles isn’t alone. I saw blond hair spilling out from under the covers. There are two bodies on the air mattress, but I think one of them’s asleep.” I stare dumbly.
“That means only one of the girls left. The other is still here — with Charles.”
We wait for silence, read the newspaper, look at each other in bafflement. We certainly got our money’s worth with that new air mattress. David breaks into a song from Chicago.
Should have been my name
’cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I’m there!
Breakfast time, and we pretend the night didn’t happen. As I set the table, I look up and see Charles sitting in the living room chair. Jim, a bit dazed, is upright on the sofa. Lucy is passed out on the mattress. The bedroom crowd ambles out. Charles, how are you? Jim, are you awake yet? Would anyone like orange juice? Annie, did you sleep well? Lucy, wake up, sweetie; breakfast is ready. Four of the five sit around the kitchen table for stacks of pancakes, and heaps of eggs and sausage. They’re groggy, excited, and totally oblivious to the kitchen help. Lucy finally makes it to the kitchen for food, then meanders back to the air mattress for a couple more hours of sleep. All in all, a busy night.
The convertible’s front end is repaired and realigned, and the trunk loaded with gear. Spring Break is ready to roll on toward Panama City in style. The four adventurers discuss starting out with the top down but decide it’s too cold to ride for four hours like that. They’re not that crazy.
Out in the front yard I give the best advice I can: Good-bye. Stay safe. We love you. Be careful. Enjoy yourselves.
“Mom,” Michael turns to me. “I forgot to tell you that we’ll be back Thursday.”
“Oh, that will be nice.” I smile and wave. Then I head in to do laundry and check the air mattress for leaks.