For Crying Out Loud
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by Cathie Wayland, Theresa Garrido
Description: Two retired schoolteacher pals' relaxing reunion trip to a sleepy South Carolina beach town takes an unexpected, mysterious detour. Long-time friends Bernadette and Michaela decide to resurrect their seasoned, yet dormant friendship with a ten day trip to a small town south of Charleston. Michaela's sister's condo was available and close to the beach, shopping, and sightseeing. No husbands allowed on this vacation! The mismatched pair, now older and wiser, enjoy catching up on old times. Together they explore uncharted land called their Golden Years with wit and sarcasm. These two older gals find hilarity in everyday circumstances. Both cynical and snide, they enjoy every opportunity to laugh at or with each other, experiencing the sheer joy of friendship. From their collective years of teaching school, "Mike" and "Bernie" are keen observers of life. When they notice strange goings-on at the condominium complex they are hell-bent on solving an honest-to-goodness mystery. Will they unravel the clues before it's too late?
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2010 Spring, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [307 KB]
Reading time: 179-251 min.
I re-readjusted my bright pink, floppy-brimmed, fashionable Southern Belle hat, pushed a few strands of straying hair around, squirmed and tugged at underwear forever sneaking into unnatural crevices, and watched the clock that crept along like Great Aunt Metta with her walker. Lord. The wait seemed interminable. I cracked my neck, fidgeted, and continued perusing each face and form for the long-delayed, much anticipated reunion with my bosom-buddy, whom I hadn't seen in twenty-plus years. Patience was not my forte.
Schooling myself to settle down, I counted to sixty and refused to steal another glance at the clock. Picking up someone's discarded newspaper, I scanned the headlines, noting that Charleston was no different from Greenville or Atlanta. News was news. People were people. Only interesting piece was the blurb about missing three-year-old twins. Thinking about children being abducted was not what I wanted to do so I tossed the paper aside and stole a tiny peek at the clock. The hands hadn't budged a fraction.
Lord. I'd survived the tedious, solo drive down to the Charleston airport. Had overcome timidity and trepidation to allow a scrap of paper with Map Quest's directions to be my guide. Had endured three calls from my ever-anxious husband. Had managed to find a parking space. Couldn't I wait like an adult and not a fretful toddler for my pal of thirty-two years to arrive? Of course I could. Well, maybe I could.
Eyes glazed over with fatigue. Legs crossed and re-crossed. On the verge of pulling out my hair and jumping up and down in frustration, I clenched my hands, sat up straighter, and waited. And waited. An eternity and half a lifetime later, I spotted her, and she, me. Leaping from my seat, nearly tripping over my own purse, I dashed across the room to meet her. A trail of squeals followed behind.
"Ohmigawd." I gurgled, hugging her as best I could, since she towered over me. "Oh, Bernadette, you're here. You're here. Is it really you? Oh, I can't believe this. But your hair. Your hair. Where is your Farrah Fawcett hair?"
She threw back her head and guffawed. "Michaela, who in the world even recognizes Farrah Fawcett anymore, much less her hair?" She patted the fluff on top of her head and rolled her eyes. "My flat and sassy style." Eyes narrowed. "My hair, not my body." Another eye roll. "Can't tell you how long it takes a curling iron to straighten it like this. Natural curly hair be damned."
"Well, it looks great," I chirped. "It's just not how I remembered you, so it threw me."
"Please don't say you were expecting me to look the way I did in 1979."
I laughed. "Heavens no. I just didn't expect this. Ohmigawd. Let me look at you."
Bernie tossed the new do and made a face. "You can study me all you want once we're settled at the condo. All I want now is to grab my bags and get the hell out of here. I feel like a Marine coming home from a deployment." She sighed for effect. "I loathe flying. It took forever to leave Lambert. We circled St. Louis half a dozen times before the pilot decided on the right direction and nosed toward Charleston. I'm beat."
"Yeah, I hear you. The drive down--all by myself, I'm proud to say--then the wait here in the terminal drained all the energy I had. And it's so hot. I can't wait to get to the beach."
We made our way through the concourse area, pausing every few steps to take in every detail of the other, memorize every familiar little mannerism, every little idiosyncrasy that only a best friend would recognize and treasure.
"Oh, my gosh. I cannot believe we did it." I chortled for the third time, just staring up at her. A flood of memories cascaded over me and time seemed to stand still.
It'd been twenty-plus years since we shared the corner of the dilapidated teachers' lounge at the small country school where we'd vented and fumed about recalcitrant students and their obtuse parents. Both retired now, this trip had been in the works for some fifteen years. I never thought it'd come to fruition, yet, here we were with enough memories to fill a dozen scrapbooks.
Dear, dear Bernie. I'd never forget the moment we first met. 1975. I'd just made the move from Seattle to Missouri, where my sister and family had settled three years before. I'd been fortunate to find a teaching position in a small, rural parochial school, a reasonable distance from my little apartment-over-a-garage on a farm only a mile from my family.
The first day of the teachers' preparation week, the principal was showing me the building and grounds when we bumped into Bernie in all her blond-hair glory. At almost six feet tall, she towered over my five-foot-three frame, and I remember gazing up at her smiling face and seeing a decided twinkle in her blue-gray eyes. Even though a little taken aback by the twitching of her lips and her teasing smirk, it hadn't taken long before our senses of the ridiculous meshed, and we discovered we were soul mates.
Oh, we had glorious times in that little school. It didn't matter that we were without funds for necessary materials, or that the principal turned out to be a close relative of Attila the Nun. We were the "Hawkeye" and "B.J." of our small world and took great delight in teasing one another, playing practical jokes, and entertaining students and peers with our quips, antics, and mutual love of theater. A day didn't go by that we weren't doubled over in the hallway, convulsed in laughter bordering on hysteria, or belting out a Broadway tune. Yes, those days had definitely gone down in infamy.
But then I got married, moved to South Carolina, and we lost the preciousness of daily encounters, shared laughter, and companionship. We kept in touch, of course, via quirky cards, e-mail, and the occasional phone call, but it wasn't the same. Husbands and growing families took center-stage, and our attentions focused on things other than ourselves. We remained best friends but the camaraderie faded into those mental junk drawers we call memory.
Nevertheless, the moment our eyes met, a surge of heady delight rushed through me. We both broke into blazing smiles and tandem bursts of laughter, powered by the sheer joy of recognition and reconnection. Ahhh...friendship. Could anything be sweeter?
Reverie broken, I said, "You'll love the condo. Two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Perfect."
"How long have your sister and brother-in-law had it?"
"Oh, gosh...two, maybe three years. Everybody in the family uses it."
"I don't doubt it. Remind me to send a card to thank her."
Arm in arm and chattering non-stop, we barged our way through the crowd into the baggage claim area. We'd begin our adventure as soon as we rescued Bernie's suitcases. Anxious to be on our way, I elbowed through the mob gathered about the stainless steel baggage shooter and edged to the front of the line. There I stood, poised to pounce as the carousel conveyor belt whirled luggage around just beyond my reach.
"Whoops," Bernie thrust out one long arm. "That dark blue one's mine." In her excitement, she waved both arms, just missed hitting an elderly gentleman balancing on his cane, and then avoided, by sheer luck, slapping a Burger King cup out of the hand of a surly biker-looking guy. As Bernie's suitcase rolled past us for the third time, we'd all but given up.
A bicep-blessed man stepped in, reached out and snagged the runaway luggage on its fourth tour, hoisted it off the belt and flung it at Bernie with a condescending grin. Dragging the enormous valise across unsuspecting toes and bumping into other weary travelers waiting for the mesmerizing suitcase parade to pass, we managed a hasty retreat from the premises. Twelve minutes together and already we'd garnered way too much attention. What else was new?
Gasping for air from laughing so hard, we struggled down a sloping ramp with the enormous rolling suitcase clipping behind at a healthy pace. When it seemed, even to me, that we'd been walking and tugging and towing our way toward the exit for an epoch, I paused and looked around--this side of frantic. I held my breath, expecting Bernie's annoyance to erupt any second. I didn't have long to wait.
"How far away did you park the damn car, anyway?" Bernie huffed, as we lumbered out of the parking garage and into the sight-slicing brightness of the open parking lot. Already on my case. I knew she suspected I'd forgotten not only the lot and lane, but which car I'd driven. Since I have sort of a reputation--no, a history--of getting a little rattled on occasion, this was no surprise. Bernie used to thrive on pointing out my foibles to me every chance she got. This trait hadn't changed.
"I wrote it down." I fumbled in my left pocket. "Just wait...I know it's in here somewhere... Okay. I have it. It's G-18." I announced, chin up, proving that I did have the information, and that the situation was under control.
Bernie knew better. Nothing tickled her more than getting me a little flustered. It was official. The good-natured war of the words had begun. With a bang.
"We're past G and on row J. Is this even the right lot?"
"Yes, it's the right lot. We were talking and I got distracted."
"We're melting here and you got distracted?"
"Oh, please. It's not like you're not used to humidity, coming from St. Louis."
"Different kind of humidity."
"I'm dying here."
"Okay, okay. There it is."
Toiling with the bulging suitcase and one carry-on bag, we trudged and perspired our way across acres of molten blacktop to the farthest available parking spot. Keyed-up and nerves on over-drive when I'd arrived, I'd just picked the first spot I'd seen. Only after walking into the airport had I even registered there were closer spaces, not to mention a parking garage that would've been a more reasonable option, considering the oppressive heat.
We dropped the cases while I groped in my cavernous purse for the illusive keys. Exchanging knowing glares across the blistering car roof, we erupted into purling laughter as we gazed at the over-packed back seat and loaded trunk.
"Where in the hell am I going to put this?" Bernie pretended to fume.
"Well, why'd you bring such a humongous suitcase?"
"Me? How about you."
"I had to pack for any and all occasions, you know. We might go into Charleston. Then there's the beach and..."
"You should have brought the van then."
Ignoring her, I made a half-hearted attempt to rearrange a few items then sighed. "Just put it on top of that stuff. I'm too hot to care. Let's just get away from the airport."
And so it began...
"Do you really believe we're doing this?" Bernie grinned at me as she tried to maneuver her long legs in the cramped space provided by my Plymouth Neon, even with the seat shoved back as far as it would go.
I returned her smile and inserted the key in the ignition, casting a sidelong glance at this comfortable memory in all her glorious hair and hilarity. My mind raced helter-skelter as a cascade of reminiscences spanning thirty-two years flooded my mind--Bernie's explosive interjections of hysterical laughter punctuating each retrieved recollection.
"Omigosh," I exhaled. "This really is amazing--our being here, that is. I still don't believe we pulled it off. My Joe was beside himself with fretting at being abandoned. He's already called three times just making sure I'm all right. He needs looking after, the poor man."
Bernie snorted. "My Jack is positively destitute without me. He'll be lost, I'm not sorry to say." She leaned back against the headrest and sighed. "I've talked to him at least five times just since leaving St. Louis."
Nodding, I scanned the lot for the exit sign. It shouldn't have been that difficult, but I was too frazzled from the journey, the reunion, and the heat to process. Almost ten minutes had passed, and the continual looping and maneuvering only returned us to our starting point. Renewing efforts to exit the lot, we traveled a serpentine route and found the pay booth. Bernie handed me a ten-dollar bill, and I paid the parking attendant, driving off without Bernie's change.
Who cared? Freedom at last.