We laughed as the ice cream dripped from my mom’s waffle cone. She raised her cone above her head, ducking under it in a futile attempt to catch the drips.
The green pistachio would wash out of her silver-streaked hair, but I wondered if it’d stain her white cotton blouse. After the Memorial Day weekend after my ninth-grade year, I never again wore white to the beach. Attempting to blot the cherry coconut ice cream hadn’t ended well. I could still hear my crush whistling and laughing at me. My stomach had clenched in dread, remembering how I’d see him with his friends at school on Monday. I had discovered white linen shorts became see-through when wet that day. Resentment bubbled up again that my mom hadn’t warned me. Looking back now, I wondered if she regretted her actions that day. Had she replayed it in her mind, trying to see where she could have supported me better? Even at that age, I’d considered us friends.
Mom now asked the cotton candy vendor for napkins. The harried teen motioned at the container absentmindedly before turning back to the young mom with two small children clamoring for their own flavors. I wondered if that mom would share her experiences with her children or if she’d use my mother’s favorite line, “Oh, honey, I thought you knew”?
Today I’d grabbed a few extra napkins to catch the drips from my own waffle cone, aware I’d regret it if I didn’t plan ahead. I took another bite of my two-scoop cone, Rocky Road and Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl, while I waited on the edge of the boardwalk. Mom sauntered back, grinning. Now my heart ached, remembering the afternoons gardening, the piano duets, the long talks when driving into town to help Grandma. When had she changed?
With her dripping ice cream temporarily dammed, we resumed walking towards the picnic area just above the beach. I preferred the rough, rocky coastlines of my new home. Mom had always enjoyed the wooden boardwalk. She insisted it was easier to walk on and looked nicer, declining a trip to my beach the few times she’d visited. When Mom asked if I wanted to walk along the boardwalk, I’d jumped at the chance. I needed the energy from the ocean. I considered asking why she wanted to visit, but I didn’t want to be disappointed.
“Before we leave the boardwalk, I want to take you to the Briar Boutique. I think you’d like their outfits, and I know the owner. She might even give us a discount.”
The name rang a bell. One of her sorority sisters had started an upscale boutique. I suspected this was it. I also suspected my accomplishments would be touted and pressure placed on getting a ‘going away’ outfit from her friend’s shop. The chances she carried my style were slim-to-nil. Now Mom’s insistence to buy the ice cream rushed back. I don’t have much, but I can do this for us! It’s my treat for today! I wondered how many times I’d been encouraged to do or buy something that boosted my mother’s image, my own situation unimportant. “Sure, we can stop in there.”
“The wedding is coming up soon. Has Geoffrey finally cut his hair?”
I forced myself to breathe slowly. I’d be less ‘reactive’, giving me a chance to be heard before she dismissed me. Geoff and I’d exchanged bets on when she’d start in on him. It was a feeble attempt to lighten what we knew could be a stressful afternoon. He’d tenderly kissed me before he said, “She’ll bring it up in the first hour, maybe half hour.”
I’d looked at him, begging him with my eyes to be wrong.
He’d brushed my cheek and studied my face for what seemed like minutes. “I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. You have no idea how amazing you are. My dream is to see you realize that. I hope you’ll still love me when that happens. Either way, I am a lucky man.” He brought my hands up, kissed them. “How about we make the bet a reverse bet for the 30-minute mark? If I win, I’ll make you dinner and draw a hot bath for you.” He wrapped his arms around me and held me while I pretended to not cry.
“Geoffrey would look like such a hunk if he cleaned up a bit. Short hair can take some getting used to. Honestly, he should have cut it a couple months ago.”
Even though I’d made the bet, I’d hoped to experience an afternoon like the ones she and I had once enjoyed. She gave me a quizzical look when I asked, “You’ve met him half a dozen times, and that’s your first comment today about my future husband? Your future son-in-law?”
The edges of her mouth tightened. “I thought I’d bring up the wedding. Should we talk about something different?”
At that moment I realized I was no longer friends with my mom but an equal, or near enough. “The wedding plans are going well. Geoff arranged for the catering, which I’d stressed myself out over. Did you like the menu? His best friend is in chef’s school, and he had some great ideas. Turns out he’s able to even do the catering with the date of the wedding.”
“A friend of his? Not a real caterer?” She sat down at a picnic table away from the water, selecting the seat shaded by the umbrella. The boutique Mom wanted to visit faced our table. She’d be clearly visible, chatting with her only child. Then she’d claim I suggested we stop in, or something that would be sufficiently close to the truth that it’d be hard to refute.
I sat facing Mom, thankful the wind blew my long bangs away from my face, making it easier to finish my ice cream. I wondered if she knew she’d given me my preferences or if it was accidental.
“Did you remember to wear sunscreen? We’ll not be out long, but a sunburn would be unfortunate.”
“I remembered. Geoff already handled the details. We picked the menu with you and Dad in mind.” I watched the waves reaching for high tide, smelling the decaying seaweed. It had been cleaned from the beach nearer the boardwalk. Further out, away from the beachgoers, the line of kelp waited to be pulled back into the depths, to be drowned by the waves before being rejected once more, left again on a distant beach.
Mom shifted in the silence. “Have you decided which florist you’re going with? Last time we talked, you hadn’t settled on one yet.”
“Like I said, I decided to arrange my own flowers. It took me a couple weeks, but they’re done. I have pictures—”
“Sweetie, you know they aren’t the same as real flowers. People will know.” Mom looked inside her waffle cone. She deepened her voice. “Looks like I ate the whole thing!”
I ignored my mom’s attempt to revive an old joke we’d shared. I focused on the almost-crunch of my waffle. It might not be the best waffle cone, but it was my waffle cone, on the beach, dripping with chocolate ice cream. “If people care that much, they don’t need to bother attending. It’s my wedding, and I enjoyed arranging the blooms, enhancing each flower’s beauty by pairing it with another. I realized that’s how a strong marriage works, blending each individual’s strengths, shoring up their weaknesses.”
She put her cone on the scarred picnic table. “All that from sticking fake flowers together?”
I shrugged, wondering what we’d talk about for the next hour. Wondering if Mom had changed or if I had. Did it matter? Either way, when I got home, I’d have a warm bath and a hot supper waiting for me. I just needed to tell Geoff what order I wanted them in. I would text him from the dressing room, trying on an outfit I would never wear.