The girls and I got to the diner first. I sat down and started looking over the menu, and the girls took off to play with the vintage arcade machines. I wonder if the people of Mulleneaux even realize their video games are vintage. It’s apparent those same machines have been in the same spot in the diner for years. They’ve always worked just fine, so why change? I love that about this town.
Mason walked in and sat down across from me. I started to say “hello,” but something about the look on his face stopped me. He looked… I don’t know, concerned. Distracted, maybe?
So instead of saying “hello” I said, “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it should be.”
“Should be?” I asked.
“It’s just mom. It’s happened before…” His voice trailed off.
“What’s happened before?” I asked, confused.
“Mom.” He shook his head and took a deep breath, “You might as well know.”
“She’s sick, isn’t she?”
“Yeah,” for the first time since he’d walked through the door, he looked at me, “How’d you know?”
“I could just tell.”
“She’s been sick for awhile. She just had a bad spell tonight.”
“What is it?” I asked, softly.
“Cancer,” he spoke the word like he’d been holding it in for months.
“She was diagnosed last year. She went through treatments for a few months, but she was miserable… said she’d rather die than…” his voice trailed off again.
“Do you want to go home? Mason, you didn’t have to come.”
“No,” he shook his head, “She’s sleeping now. There’s nothing I can do but worry, and I might as well get something to eat while I worry.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Thanks,” he picked up a menu, “Me too.”
There was a silence between us that didn’t feel awkward, but I felt like I needed to break it anyway.
“You know the pictures I took for your mom?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he studied the menu intently.
“I actually took…” I reached down under the table and pulled a gift bag up, “… a few more than she asked for.”
“It’s for you under one condition.”
“What’s the condition?”
“You can’t breathe a word of this to Ann. I promised her I wouldn’t hand out any of the pictures I took.” While I spoke Mason opened the gift bag and pulled the framed picture out.
“Wow,” he whispered, reaching out to gently touch the glass.
“She didn’t want anyone to see… but I couldn’t help it. It’s so beautiful. I just couldn’t keep it to myself.”
Mason looked up from the picture. He locked eyes with me, and when he did I could see his were full of tears.
“Thank you,” he said. Normally, I didn’t like to keep eye contact with anyone, but I couldn’t look away from Mason. There was something about his eyes that sort of pulled me in.
Don’t get the wrong idea -it wasn’t as if they were SO dreamy that I couldn’t look away. It was almost as if there was so much love behind them -so much of…. something… I just couldn’t look away.
It was Mason who looked away first. He cleared his throat and sort of chuckled.
“I’m sorry,” he said, quickly wiping his eyes with his dirty, long-sleeved work shirt.
“No, don’t apologize.” I spoke softly.
“I guess you’re probably starving.”
“I’m okay,” I shrugged.
“Well I’m starving. How ’bout your girls?”
“Are you kidding? They couldn’t care less about the food. They just wanted to come play the games.”
And so we ordered. And ate. Mason seemed much more relaxed after telling me his mother had cancer. It was almost as if he’d been bearing the burden alone until last night. After we ate, the girls were begging to play the arcade games for a few more minutes. I told them they could, “Just remember, you’ve got exactly 30 minutes until you have to be in bed, and if you stay and play, you won’t have enough time to eat ice cream.”
That did it. One mention of ice cream before bed, and they all ran out of the diner before I could even stand up.
I hurried to gather up my keys, bag and phone. Mason stood up and offered me a hand.
I took it.
And when I took it, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time a man had offered to help me out of a booth. or into a car. or anything, really.
It was so nice to be noticed. It wasn’t as if Mason did it because he felt compelled to take MY hand. He just did it because that’s the way he is. He notices people and he notices needs.
It’s nice to be noticed.
As I unlocked the car and let the girls pile in, I asked him if he wanted to join us. He said he didn’t want to intrude, but I pressed the issue.
“I actually have something I wanted to show you to see if you could maybe help me out.” I said, “Can’t you see I’m using ice cream to try and lure you into helping me?” I joked.
And so he came.
I let the girls stay up while I talked to Mason about the photo book project. He was really impressed with it, and we were able to work a little on it right then, which I hadn’t expected.
But when he saw the pictures, he couldn’t help but start telling little stories about where some of the porcelain dolls had come from.
Before I knew it, it was creeping up on 10 pm, and little Kenzie was falling asleep on the couch. I woke her up and sent the girls off the change into their pajamas.
“Come back for prayers,” I said.
“I should go,” Mason stood up.
“No, stay for prayers,” I insisted. “It would be nice to have the company.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“I’m sure,” I said. I didn’t actually say, “It would be nice to have a priesthood holder around while we pray” because that sounded MORE than a little crazy, but that’s what I meant.
So he stayed while we all knelt down and Kenzie prayed. Kenzie always has the sweetest, most honest prayers. She’ll always pray for whatever she feels she needs most to pray for. Even if it’s her dad’s new wife. And “Sparkler,” her new puppy at her new house…
I try not to let things like that irk me, but sometimes they do.
Okay, MOST times, they do. I’m trying to get over it, honestly I am.
After the girls toddled into bed, Mason stood up and walked toward the door.
“Thanks so much for your help Mason,” I said.
“No problem, I think it’s a great idea,” he pointed to my lap top that was still open to the book project, “Mom’s going to love it.”
“I hope so. I hope you don’t think I’m overstepping my bounds. I know I haven’t known your mother long.”
“But you know her well enough,” he shrugged. He put his hand on the door knob and then he stopped and turned to me, “I think you should know something. It doesn’t matter much, I guess. But Ann isn’t the woman who gave birth to me.”
“Oh?” I asked, trying to sound surprised. But I wasn’t much.
“My real mom is Ann’s daughter. She died when I was a baby in a car accident. Ann wouldn’t let anyone else have me. She’s always been my mom.”
“She’s such an amazing woman.”
“She is,” Mason nodded, “I’m glad you’re getting know her now.”
“I am too,” I said, and listening to him say “getting to know her now” sent a sort of sadness up from my heart to my eyes, and I started to tear up.
“Look,” Mason said, not looking at me and not realizing I was on the verge of bursting into a full-blown tear fest, “Don’t treat her any different. She doesn’t like people knowing about her cancer.” I swallowed hard, trying to mask my emotions.
“I understand. I won’t.” But my voice betrayed me. Surprised, Mason looked up at me. I was furiously trying to blink the tears back into my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “This is ridiculous.”
“No, I’m sorry.” He moved away from the door and stepped in closer to me, “I shouldn’t have told you.”
“I guess I knew already,” I said, “I just didn’t ‘know’ know. You know?”
“I know.” Mason slowly nodded, smiling.
“I know it sounds silly, but I really feel close to her. I wish I had more time to spend with her, to really get to know her.”
“You’ll get to know her more than you know through making that book,” Mason pointed to my computer again.
“You must think I’m crazy. Some crazy city girl who busted into your town and fell in love with your mother.”
“She’s easy to love,” Mason stepped in a little closer again, “And she really likes you.”
“Did she say that?” I looked up, the tears slipping silently down my cheek. I’d quit trying to wipe them away.
“She does say that. Quite often.”
For some reason, hearing him say that seemed to fix everything for the moment. I smiled.
“Thanks,” I said.
“For what?” he asked.
“For telling me that. For not making me feel like a fool for crying. For helping me with this book… just, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” he nodded. I was looking down at his boots, and I noticed them taking another step toward me. I hadn’t realized how close he’d gotten to me because I’d been too busy crying. When I DID realize it, my instinct was to back up, but I couldn’t. I just looked up at him and found him looking at me, and I couldn’t move.
I was rooted to the spot, wondering all at once what he was thinking and if my mascara was running. In one seemingly slow motion, he brought me in for a hug. A REAL hug -one of those hugs that makes you feel like summertime in the middle of November.
“Thank you for the picture,” he said. And then he stepped away.
“Anytime,” said, and then immediately wished I could take it back because it made ABSOLUTELY no sense. But honestly, I couldn’t really think straight at that point. Any woman who hadn’t been really hugged by a man in ages wouldn’t be able to think straight.
“When do you want to work on the book again?” he asked.
“Any evening usually works for me. Just call me sometime when you have a few minutes, and we’ll try to make it work.”
“Sounds good.” He said. Then he put his hand on the doorknob, turned it, and walked out.
But I didn’t move. Even when I heard his old truck start and pull out of the drive way, I didn’t move. I could still feel the warmth of the hug, and I didn’t want it to leave.
It left me feeling a lot like the kid in that one cartoon who invented a hugging machine to feel loved. What cartoon was that? I don’t know. Anyway, how sad is that? All Mason did was hug me. All I did was give him a picture. And yet, I suddenly realize just how rotten my marriage really was.
There wasn’t any hugging.
Tomorrow morning, the girls are getting hugs.
And tomorrow before bed, they’re getting hugs.
And they’ll continue to get them for the rest of their lives.