Rosa stood with her back straight and eyes forward behind the old brown wooden desk at the inn she owned and ran. She kept her eyes glued to the glass doors at the entrance. Her small frame wouldn’t move until she saw her much anticipated guest. Rosa had been waiting for this moment all year long. Her best friend, Elosie would come once a year to visit her. They would laugh, sip coffee by the fireplace, and eat good home cooked meals that Rosa would prepare in the inn’s kitchen after the staff was dismissed for the day. They would giggle like school girls and Eloise would scrunch up her nose when she told stories about her late husband, Albert and her grandchildren. Rosa looked forward to this all year round. Rosa looked at the white circular clock on the wall behind her and realized that her friend was late. She wondered aloud where Eloise was. It was half past the hour and she was usually early not late. But, Rosa could wait. She told herself not to be so impatient that her friend would soon be here.
Rosa shuffled some papers around on the desk, mainly some brochures for the guests and stacked them in two neat piles on the edges of the desk. She fumbled with some pens and pencils trying to pass the time. Suddenly Rosa looked up and there she was. Eloise was standing at the front door. Her small petite friend dressed in a bright blue ski jacket, hat to match and brown boots rolling a bag behind her that looked almost as big as she was. Rosa almost ran to the door and yanked it open. The two women hugged in a long embrace.
“It’s about time you got here? What took you so long?” Rosa asked when she released her friend from the long embrace.
“I missed my plane and had to wait on another one.” Eloise explained. “But, I am here now.” She continued.
“Yes indeed you are.” Rosa said.
“Well, are we going to your house or staying at the inn this time?” Eloise asked.
“I thought that we would stay here. It’s off season and there aren’t many guests and I only have a few staff members here now. Plus my house is getting a new kitchen and I would have nowhere to cook but here.” Eloise explained. “We can stay in two adjoining rooms and keep the door open like we did when we were in college and took our girl trips in the summer.” Eloise continued.
“That sounds like a fine idea.” Rosa responded.
Rosa went to unpack and unwind after her long plane trip while Eloise prepared the dinner for them. Eloise was preparing ham, collard greens, cornbread, peas and a pot of chili with no beans. She knew that they would have plenty of leftovers for the next day. She prepared Rosa’s favorite pecan pie for dessert topped with plenty of pecans and the ice cream was waiting in the freezer for a delicious vanilla topping. She loved having Eloise here and wished that she could come up to the mountains more than once a year. But, she also saw her a few times out of the year at her house.
Eloise inhaled the sweet aroma of the food cooking in the kitchen and was standing at the stove adjusting the fire underneath the pots when Rosa walked in. Rosa had changed into some black colored jeans, sneakers and a turtleneck sweater. She stood there and breathed in the aromas of the food also. She walked over to the small table across from the stove which staff used when they ate in the kitchen in between serving guests. Eloise smiled and took out the bottle of wine she had chilling on ice.
“So, my friend, are you ready for some food for your soul and spirit?” Eloise asked.
“I am so ready. Do I smell ham?” Rosa laughed as she wrinkled her nose and turned her head in the direction of the stove.
“You sure do plus a few other of our favorites.” Eloise responded.
The two friends gobbled down the meal and sipped the wine. They laughed so hard at each other’s jokes which reminded Rosa of how they were when they were girls in high school. After dinner the two women cleaned up the kitchen and went to sit by the roaring fire which Eloise had started before Rosa came down from her room, the fire which would warm up more than the room. Rosa noticed Eloise’s skin glistening in the light of the fire. She smiled and sipped on her newly poured glass of wine.
“Eloise, there is something I must tell you before I go.” Rosa said gazing at the fire.
“What is it?” Eloise asked.
“It can wait. Right now I would just like to enjoy this glass of wine and the fire. In due time.”
After a good meal and good wine and a warm fire the women went up to their adjoining rooms. They talked and laughed and pretty soon Rosa was asleep. She was “calling the hogs” as Eloise’s grandma would say, meaning snoring loudly. Eloise took that opportunity to go to her room and shut the door which brought the two rooms together. She needed some privacy for what she had to do next.
Eloise slowly and deliberately took off her wig. She was holding her new crowning glory in her left hand. She was used to the bald head and the wig she now wore to cover it. When she learned she had cancer she shaved her head two weeks later but told nobody. She went to the wig store, her head covered in a brightly colored scarf tied around her head. She asked the store clerk who couldn’t have been more than 18 where the scarves were located. The girl barely looked up from her phone and pointed in the direction of the back of the store. Eloise said to her,
“Do you mean at the back of the store or in that general area? I can not see well so could you please show me?”
The girl sucked her teeth and came from behind the counter and motioned for Eloise to follow her and they walked down a few aisles of women’s dresses and pants to the back of the store where the scarves were neatly folded on shelves. The girl didn’t say a word, just turned and walked back to the front of the store to her perch at the counter. Eloise smiled at her and started shuffling through the first row of scarves. She folded the ones back that she didn’t want and took a handful of yellow, purple, blue and red scarves to the cash register. The scarves would now become a permanent part of her wardrobe.
Eloise was going to tell Rosa about her cancer when she arrived but decided that she would wait. Rosa had cooked a good meal and they had some of the best conversation they have had since they were teens. Eloise decided to tell her two days before she was going to leave. That would give her enough time to let the diagnosis sit within her head and give her enough time to say the obligatory “Sorry.” Eloise put the wig on the stand she had packed with her and turned off the lights and went to sleep.
When Eloise woke up the next morning Rosa was not in her bed. She looked at the small clock on the wall and it was after 9am. Eloise didn’t realize that she had slept so late. She hurried and showered and got dressed. She found Rosa in the kitchen setting the table. From the aroma in the air Eloise knew that she had cooked some bacon and probably some hash browns and eggs to go with it. That was one of their favorite breakfasts. Rosa looked up and smiled.
“Sleep well?” She asked her friend.
“Yes. The bed was really comfortable. I slept like a baby and from the snoring you were doing I assume you slept well too.” Eloise laughed.
“Guess what? We have a guest. He checked in early this morning. He’s a doctor from your state, California. He’s here for a few days. He’s staying on the third floor. I don’t know if he is married or not but he sure is one handsome man.” Rosa blushed.
“Rosa, please. You think most men are handsome.” Eloise teased.
“No, but this one really is. He’s tall, broad shoulders, dark brown curly hair, dark brown eyes, and at least 6 feet tall.” Rosa continued.
“Well, let’s eat.” Eloise said.
The women ate and talked about everything and nothing and the circle of conversation pleased Eloise beyond happiness. She loved how they could just sit and talk and eat and enjoy each other's company without a care in the world. They cleared the table after a filling breakfast and decided to take a short walk. They hiked up and down the various trails, breathed in the cool morning air and returned back to the inn around lunch time. When they entered the lobby there was Rosa’s doctor visitor standing there with his back towards them. He was reading some kind of paper. Eloise for a minute thought that he looked like her doctor, Dr. Quieten from behind. But, that couldn’t be him. What would he be doing here. She walked closer and the doctor turned around. That familiar face of whom Rosa called Doctor Q was standing inches from her. She almost spit out the hot chocolate she had just sipped when she saw him. He nodded and Rosa smiled.
“Hey, do you guys know each other?” Rosa asked, noticing the looks on their faces.
“Yes, we do.” Eloise responded as she brushed past the doctor to the chair across the room. She sat down and sipped some more hot chocolate. She knew that Dr. Q would not say anything to her friend about her illness but her heart felt like it had sunk into her stomach when she saw him. She saw Rosa talking to him and then he disappeared into the dinning room.
“Do you want to tell me what is going on?” Rosa asked, sitting across from her best friend.
“Not here. Let’s get lunch and take it back to the room.” Eloise answered.
A few minutes later Rosa was carrying a tray of fruit and two tuna sandwiches to the room which they shared. Rosa sat the tray on the bed and then she sat on the other side of the tray. Eloise was already sitting on the edge of the bed and she reached over and grabbed an overly ripened strawberry from the tray. The juice of the strawberry was as bitter sweet as the words she had to form in her mouth to speak. She took a deep breath and exhaled.
“Rosa, I am sick. When I tell you my sickness I don’t want you to feel sorry for me or pity me. It is just something that happened. I don’t want any tears either. Lord knows I cried a lot and can’t cry anymore. I don’t feel sorry for myself anymore and I don’t want you to feel sorry for me either.” Eloise said.
She took Rosa’s hand in hers and she told her that she was sick with cancer and she had come one last time to say good-bye. She explained to her all the details of her cancer and told her that she was not going to tell her so soon but she saw her doctor in the lobby and figured that it was time. She also laughed at the irony of her doctor coming to the same inn at the same time she was there to vacation. Eloise and Rosa embraced for a long time. They did not want to let each other go from the warm heartfelt embrace that only best friends could understand. Eloise did what Rosa asked and didn’t cry although she wanted to. They didn’t mention the cancer again for the rest of the trip. They talked, ate, laughed at late night movies and sang off key to their favorite songs while cooking a lot of food.
Six months later a letter arrived from Eloise to Rosa. The handwriting on the envelope was scratchy and shaky. Eloise looked at the envelope a long time before opening it. Inside was a long five page letter.
“My dearest Friend,
If you received this letter it means only one thing. It means that I have gained my heavenly wings and I am no longer on this earth. I did not want a funeral or memorial service and told my son, Blake not to give me one. I hope that he honored my wishes. I also told him to mail this letter to you a month after I passed away. I didn’t want any deathbed good-bye’s. I wanted you to remember me from the last time we were together at the inn. I wanted you to remember our long and winding conversations about everything and nothing. I wanted you to remember our laughter and our nights sitting by the fireplace sipping tea and hot chocolate and the occasional mug of coffee to stay awake so we could chat more without the fear of falling asleep. I want you to remember us at the kitchen table and me teasing you about your cooking. You do know that you are the best cook I know but I couldn’t help teasing you about the one dish you had trouble making, Upside down strawberry and pineapple cake. Somehow the upside down part always gave you trouble. I do want you to know how much I truly loved you and cherished each and every second of our friendship. I want you to know that my heart was full and you were the best thing besides my son that ever happened to me. Meeting you in Spanish class that day was the best thing fate had brought to me two girls flunking ninth grade Spanish. Those were the days huh? I also had Blake send you a box which should have been delivered with this letter. Inside you will find a gift. I hope that you treasure it as much as I did. I love you and until we are laughing in heaven I will be your guardian angel and by the way if you don’t already know, Dr. Q is single. (Hint, Hint).
Your Best Friend for Life,
Rosa opened the box and looked at every picture of them in the album. When she was done she clutched the photo album to her chest and looked upward and blew her friend a long kiss. “Until we meet again.” She whispered.