“You want me to do what?”
He sat across the table from her and watched as the forkful of pasta she’d been lifting to her mouth stopped in mid-air.
“When was the last time you had an adventure?”
“I’m ninety-four years old. I’ve had my adventures. Now I want to be left alone.” She ate the bite of fettuccine and chewed it while she watched him. “This is adventure enough, these Thursday night dinners with you.”
Sam laughed out loud. “Italian food at Marco’s Pizza is hardly what I’d call an adventure.”
“That’s not what the food critic for the newspaper says,” Mary informed him.
“Pick someplace that cranky critic likes and I’ll take you there next week then.”
“Nah. It’s taken me a few years, but I’ve just about got the wait staff broken in now. All except Henry. I’m not sure that boy can be taught. Besides, I like the breadsticks here.”
Sam picked up his bottle of beer and took a long pull. He knew this wasn’t going to be easy. As a matter of fact, he knew his odds of succeeding were just about nonexistent. He decided to try anyway.
“When was the last time you went on a vacation?” he asked.
“I was only eight.”
“That was thirty-seven years ago.”
Mary dipped her chin and looked at Sam over the tops of her eye glasses. “I sure hope that expensive college education you paid so long for taught you a little something more than how to figure that out.”
It took everything Sam had not to roll his eyes. Leslie had always told him he could be a real smart ass. The woman he was watching now had taught him everything he knew about the subject. “What happened in 1979?”
“Your grandad and I went to Niagara Falls to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. We never made it to our fiftieth.”
That part Sam knew.
“You haven’t thought about traveling anywhere since?”
“Nope,” Mary stated, taking a bite of her breadstick. “Nothing out there I want to see.”
Sam finished off his beer. He was sure Mary was wrong about that.
“You might be getting senile,” Mary informed him the next day. “I thought you were only forty-five. You missed our turn off. Criminy,” she shook her head. “I can’t take my eyes off you for even a second.”
The sun was shining brightly as Sam maneuvered his SUV through the city streets.
“I know what I’m doing.”
“I talked to Chloe a couple nights back. She disagrees.”
Sam smiled, but it was a sad smile. “Chloe’s twelve. Of course she disagrees.”
“She says she’s going to see you at Thanksgiving.”
“That’s the plan.”
Mary played with the wedding ring she still wore on her finger. “That’s a long time from now.”
It was exactly three months. Mary was right. It was a long time.
“She starts school in a week. Leslie doesn’t think it’s a good idea to pull her out of class and I agree with her.”
“That’s something new and different. Have you and Leslie ever agreed on anything?”
Sam pretended he hadn’t heard Mary’s remark. “I’ll get her for a full week come November.”
“California is such a long way away.” Mary sighed. She looked around at the passing scenery. “I’d like to know where in the world you think you’re taking me, mister.”
It wasn’t a question so Sam decided to keep his mouth shut.
Mary was uncharacteristically quiet as Sam pulled into the short-term parking lot at the airport. She didn’t utter a sound when he got out and took a suitcase and an overnight bag from the back of the car. He did receive a rather surly look when he went around and opened her door.
“You of all people ought to know better,” she told him.
“You’re always telling me what a bad listener I am.”
“I’ll say much worse to you now.”
Sam couldn’t help but smile. “I don’t doubt that for a second.”
“I don’t know how you plan to get me out of this car and onto a plane of all things.”
“Yeah,” he shook his head. “I’m not sure how I’m gonna do that yet, either. Bribery, maybe?”
“You best start talkin’. I can’t wait to find out what you come up with.”
“Tell you what. How about we go inside. There’s a great little shop in there. Chloe and I visit whenever she flies in. She loves their vanilla croissants. I’ll buy you one and a cup of coffee or two.”
Mary looked up at him, her wrinkled little face set in a stern expression. “You know you used to be my favorite.”
“Used to be?”
“Hmmm,” she growled as she reached for his hand. “Don’t expect a Christmas present from me this year.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re coming in then?”
“For coffee and croissants,” she told him. “Now help me out. All that driving around you did made me hungry.”
Sam checked his phone again. It had been more than two hours since they’d settled into the coffee shop. He helped Mary to the ladies’ room three times, and had listened to her berate him nearly nonstop since the two of them left the car. He was starting to get worried. He knew this had been a bad idea from the start. He should never have let them talk him into this.
Mary took another sip from her coffee and brushed crumbs from the table’s surface. She brought her hand up, palm facing the ceiling, and wiggled her fingers.
“What?” he asked, the strain sounding in his normally calm voice.
“Hand them over,” she told him. “The tickets. Let me see them.”
He reached in and pulled them from the inside pocket of his jacket. She took the envelope and gave them a thorough glance.
“Okay,” she said, wrapping her scarf around her neck. “Let’s get going.”
Sam stared at her.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the airport, Samuel. I don’t know where the gate is. Even if it’s close, I think it’s best we get a move on. I’m no spring chicken, you know.”
She started to get up and Sam stood to help her. He was sure she’d stall and that he’d never get her on the plane. He knew it when he’d bought the tickets, but did it anyway.
He was the only boy out of five kids, and his sisters were all strong-willed women. Not one of them still lived in their hometown, and two of them were pregnant; one only a month away from her due date, the other ready to deliver at any time. When the idea of throwing a surprise party for Mary’s ninety-fifth birthday popped up, it was made clear to Sam that the family couldn’t come to her. She’d have to come to them. And Sam was the only one there to make that happen. The fact that Mary hadn’t been interested in travelling outside the city limits in close to forty years hadn’t seemed like an issue to anyone but Sam.
He decided not to overthink her acquiescence as he loaded himself up with their luggage, took Mary by the arm and headed toward the terminal.
“Don’t think for a second this means I’ve decided to put you back on my Christmas list,” she reminded him.
The “Fasten Seatbelts” sign flashed on and a musical note pinged from the speakers above their heads. Seats were brought to their upright positions, and tray tables were tucked away. The flight had been uneventful. Mary even dozed for part of it, and Sam read several chapters in the new novel he’d packed into his carry on.
Once the plane landed, Mary touched Sam’s arm.
“Let’s wait a bit. It’ll be easier for me once everyone’s off. I’m not interested in being rushed or getting bumped around.”
Once the cabin had quieted down, Mary reached into her purse and pulled out a strip of dark fabric. She handed it to Sam.
“What’s this for?”
“It’s a blindfold,” she announced.
Sam raised his brow. “What on earth for?”
“It’s for you.”
Her answer did nothing to help him understand. “You think I can get us both off this plane with a blindfold over my eyes?”
She shook her head. “I did what you wanted me to do. Now it’s your turn.”
Sam bit the inside of his cheek. “This is not going to turn out well,” he mused as he tied the black blindfold around his head.
“We’ll see about that.”
A few moments later, Sam felt someone take his arm. He allowed whomever it was to guide him out of the plane.
“I sure hope you know what you’re doing,” he called out to Mary.
“I always do, dear,” was her response.
He sighed and continued to walk.
Soon, he felt the knot at the back of his head being loosened, and when the blindfold fell away from his eyes, he saw Chloe standing in front of him. He blinked and stared at her face.
“Hi, Dad,” she said with a grin.
He looked over her head and saw the rest of his family, his four sisters in the front of the group.
“Surprise!” they all yelled and Sam felt Mary take his arm. He looked over at her and saw a mischievous smile playing across her face.
“This is your birthday,” he reminded her.
“And we both get a gift.”
He smiled at her. “You sly fox. You knew all along.”
She gave him a nod, then leaned into him. “I did,” she told him. “Oh,” she said looking up. “And about what I said earlier? Forget about it. You’re still my favorite.”