"Are you coming tonight?" Lucy glanced over at her mother, who was getting a manicure from a small woman with Asian coloring, but pink hair.
She wanted to say no - she would not be coming to a senior citizen dance where she would be pitied by ninety-somethings who all had dates when she did not. She wanted to go home and eat her way through pimento cheese crackers and trail mix. And binge watch The Good Fight.
Her mother, Hester Mae Dorchester, drilled her laser black eyes into Lucy's forehead, daring her to say no. Her manicurist wriggled in the discomfort arising from the tension in these women's breasts.
"Why don't people stay at home and do their own nails if they cannot be cheerful?" Ahnn Kim wondered silently.
"Ouch!" Hester gurgled - yanking her hand back in rescue from the cuticle trimmer gone astray, as Ahnn Kim adjusted her bottom around on the stool, trying to keep it from fidgeting up and away from these high octane women.
"Sorry, please," Ahnn murmured as she gently pulled the woman's paw back onto the melon-colored nail mat.
"I will be there, mother," Lucy whined. "I promised Ms. Wicker I would not only help chaperone the ball, I would come 2 hours early and help her set up."
Hester nodded bruskly and headed down the conversational track, full throttle.
"Good. What are you wearing?"
Lucy lifted her gaze up and out the window, taking her thoughts on a short jog around downtown Bakersfield. What to wear to the Archer's Ball? The highlight of the summer season for the Archer Senior Living Center. Both staff and residents would be decked out in their finest. Quite of few of both parties would go into attics and cedar chests all over town, borrowing ancient gowns and tuxes from eras gone by. Silver sequins and gobs of tiaras...zirconium studs in old French cuffs...high heels on staff ladies and bejeweled slippers on the tottering, female residents. Little lap dogs with emerald collars or bow ties and plastic, lensless glasses.
"What to wear, what to wear?" Lucy pondered in a whisper.
"What's that?" her mother demanded. Ahnn Kim looked over briefly with deep pity showing in her lovely eyes. To have such a harsh mother and still be such a dutiful daughter. No wonder the poor daughter had crawled long ago into some mental shell where she had ceased to try. Where she could flee and numb out with Oreos.
"Would you like a manicure, too?" she offered Lucy. "I have time if you want and maybe even a little style for your hair?"
Hester wrinkled her nose up, as though she smelled something bad, and was about to answer for her daughter - when the door burst open and in blew the Cavalry.
"Hello, hello, hello and well," the handsome speaker drew this out for dramatic effect before finishing up with his last, "hell - o!"
Before the startled trio, arms akimbo and a smile wrapping all the way around his head, stood Baron Tyler. Not his real name; that was Tyler Morris. He dropped the Morris and added the royal the title when he bought the little salon parlor in his hometown of Bakersfield IL. Chicago had taken him in young and spit him out middle aged. Handsome and popular and wealthy in Bakersfield - the high school football star had bombed out at sports casting, news copy assistant, used car salesman and, eventually, beauty school drop out in Chicago. The big city absolutely hated this guy.
But little Bakersfield had held a parade for him upon his return, which coincided with his parents 50th wedding anniversary and his own opening of Beauty Bowl on Main Street. He hired a variety of non-white women he had brought back from Chicago and was making a killing, at last, in the land of tints and mani-pedis.
"Hester, my love!" he cooed loudly as he bowed over her half-done manicure and smooched away. "Miss Ahnna Kiminiski (pet names were his thing), how is your day going, you enchanting minx?"
Turning from Ahnn Kim before she could slap him silly, he opened his arms wide for Lucy to embrace him, calling to her seductively,
"And who have we here? A long lost child cousin of Princess Di or I am a blind man?!"
But Lucy held her ground, both turning and tilting her head to eye him up more completely. She started to get the same little frown lines her mother had in spades - but stopped herself on purpose. She straightened her posture and remembered that only this morning she had promised herself that she would NOT become her mama....and she was going to find what she was looking for this year or die trying.
And what was she looking for? you might be wondering.
Love? Spiritual meaning? Someone to believe in = someone she could vote for with a clean conscious? True Love? Friendship? Sex?
A stiff drink?
As she gazed into the sparkling blue eyes of Baron Tyler - looking very much like a darker haired and middle aged Paul Newman - she decided that he was what she wanted.
And to her mother's total amazement, she pretty much waltzed the 4 or 5 paces between them and cuddled up into Baron's open arms with a nuzzle and a "pleased to meet you" and a little blowing into his left ear, for good effect.
Baron was a smooth one. Because what he was feeling inside was - uh oh - but what he let show was a sexy sigh of delight and welcome that any woman would be pleased to receive upon an embrace. After an inward count of 8 - Baron Tyler pulled her back at arms length, without actually letting the embrace go...just enough to get a better look at her.
And what he saw surprised him. The shape was a little softer, a little rounder than what modern times called for in a beautiful woman. She did not look starved. And her hair was pulled back plainly in a rubber band. Not a scrunchy - a thick, blue rubber band taken off of the bottom of a bunch of daisies she had bought herself yesterday. But the hair thus held was an enchanting shade of chestnut. And her brown eyes were light and alight. There were little flecks of gold in them and they were enormous. Her eyebrows needed some serious trim work - but he would see to that when he offered her "the works" in about 10 minutes.
Baron asked her name - and as she gave it, a slow, dimpled smile began to grow and grow.
"Lucy Dorchester," she found herself proud to tell him for some reason, "I am Hester's daughter. We are going to the Archer's Ball tonight and came in for a little "fluffing" up."
"Fluffing up, is it?" Baron chuckled as he wrapped his hand around hers and entwined their arms and left the bewildered Hester and Ahnn Kim in their wake. He took her over to Betsy's chair and told her to wait right there. He called Betsy, who was not due in for another hour and asked her to come early. Betsy was his best all around stylist.
And as he saw to her getting hair, brows, mani, pedi and a quick massage on the house - stating that it was his pleasure for the daughter of his favorite customer who was giving of her time to make so many of their elderly happy. And did she have a date for this soiree?
She explained that she was a chaperone and so had no date - he smiled and insisted that she could not take on such a job stag. He would be happy to escort her to the Archer's Ball, help pour the sherry and pick up the streamers after - if only she would say yes and be his date.
You never know what a day will hold. This day - and for many to follow - held Baron very close to her. And Lucy gained the confidence to explore herself and her town...to search for a better job and a much better boyfriend. To buy a dog and to visit her mom just a bit less than she had in the past. She found a new place to buy clothes and added bicycling to her daily routine - new doggie in tow.
And the fourth month after Hester's lovely funeral, Lucy packed up a van full of her favorite things and Finn the West Highland Terrier - and headed for Chicago and a new apartment, a new job and all manner of surprise endings.
You just never know...