I pull into my one-car, attached garage in the rear of my house. Walking into my mudroom, I look around and notice it’s still stark-white in here. I’ve put my stamp on the kitchen, family room, and I’ve set up the boys’ room. Two upstairs, and I turned the basement into two bedrooms downstairs. I have yet to touch this mudroom and my bedroom. Both rooms are still a blank canvas, waiting to be personalized. The company who flipped this house left it for the new owner to do with it as they please. Maybe I’ll tackle it this weekend, and I need to think about what to do with my front door.
I go into the kitchen, my happy place. I sit my purse on the kitchen island and look around. The beautiful white shaker cabinets go all the way to the ceiling. They meet the thick crown molding that is throughout the entire house.
I open the fridge, grab a bottle of water, and lean my butt on the door. It’s almost two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. In my old life, I would be going to the Fremont store to check-in and go over payroll with Alicia, the store manager. I worked six half-days a week for the last fifteen years. I would visit the manager of each of our six family-owned grocery stores throughout the two counties and spend a half-day at each.
I controlled the payroll, the HR duties, the advertising, and made sure that we, all of our stores, were involved in charity. Jake’s parents owned two grocery stores when we were in high school. Jake never had any other plans for himself other than to work for his dad. I had dreams of college and traveling around the United States. But one night, Jake and I decided to take a chance, fool around without a condom, and nine months later, Oliver was born.
We married, and both worked for his parents. Everything was content for a few years, but we were more ambitious than his father, Matt. We grew Nelson’s IGA from two stores into six stores. There is a Nelson’s in every small rural town in two counties. I think about all of the small-town parades, carnivals, and fairs the boys and I have attended over the years. We always made sure we were apart of each community where we had a store.
The only other people in my world other than my boys were my work colleagues, whom I considered friends. Everything ended when Jake was discovered fucking a girl, a twenty-five-year-old girl. A girl who is a year younger than our oldest child. It was awkward as fuck at work. All of my safe places were gone, poof, boom, vanished. Everything evaporated almost overnight. The employees knew all about Jake and Amanda. Our communities knew all about them: Amanda, the recent college graduate who couldn’t find a job in the fashion industry in NYC.
I roll my eyes, go figure. The hometown beauty pageant contestant, the homecoming queen of fucking 2013, from a small rural school in bumfuck, Ohio, couldn’t make it in the fashion industry. Poor Amanda, this is the real world, you’re one of fucking many, nothing special, nothing unique, you are an everybody. For fuck’s sake, he could be her father, LITERALLY! I need to stop my thoughts. There is no going back. There is no need for anger. It’s over.
I decide to do what I haven’t done enough of lately, and that is bake. I haven’t been trying to starve myself or lose weight, but I have no appetite. At least I’m not throwing up anymore anytime something gets near my mouth. I gagged and dry-heaved for months every time I tried to brush my teeth, and eating meat, having to chew; I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force myself to swallow because my stomach wouldn’t let me.
I grab every bowl I can carry and place them on my island. I turn both ovens on to preheat. I pull out my KitchenAid stand mixer, my two extra mixing bowl, my food processor, a pie pan, and all of my baking sheets. I take them all out and put them on the marble kitchen island.
I smile and giggle out loud. First up is Oliver, my oldest, who’s twenty-six and just married his high school sweetheart, Caroline. He graduated from Ohio University and moved back home to Roseway to help run the business. His favorite dessert is white cake with white icing. My Ollie is smart, sweet, kind, hard-working, and has never doubted what he wanted to do with his life.
I sit cake flour, vanilla, sugar, baking powder, and go to the fridge to sit out eggs and milk to get to them to room temperature. I take out the butter and place it by the kitchen window for the sun to help it soften. I butter and flour my two round cake pans.
I set everything up to bake Oliver, his favorite cake.
I go back to the cabinet where I keep my baking supplies. I grab the cocoa, peanut butter, and every bag of chocolate chips and baking chocolate I have and dump them onto the island.
My homemade chocolate pudding is Henry’s favorite, but it will be a pain to ship that to San Fransisco. So, I’ll make him something I know he loves almost as much as chocolate pudding; peanut butter chocolate swirl fudge. It’s a good thing with Violet’s constant travels. I know how to correctly ship nearly anything because I think I’m going to be doing it for the rest of my life with Henry.
He has my family, the Reese gene; he’s always up for an adventure. After graduating from Michigan University, he took a job with Facebook. He lives with two other guys who also work there and shares eight hundred square feet of living space. I shake my head, the thought of that makes me claustrophobic. He jokes that with growing up with four brothers close in age prepared him for all types of living experiences. I scrunch up my nose. Boys are gross.
“Yuck,” I say out loud, thinking of some of the things I’ve seen and heard raising five sons. I put the peanut butter and the milk chocolate by the cooktop, grab a saucepan, and set everything up to make Henry’s dessert.
I make another trip to grab graham crackers, rice Chex, and the powder sugar. I continue with their birth order. Maxwell, my wild child, my fun-loving middle baby is next. Max went to Middleton Community College and earned an Associate’s degree in business. He then decided to go to barber school. He’s just turned twenty-two and works in Roseway at the local barbershop. He’s hoping to buy old man Winters out when he retires. He also works part-time at the grocery stores with his dad and older brother. Max loves anything with peanut butter; my Grandma’s peanut butter cookies recipe is his favorite.
I make sure I prepare everything I need to bake Max’s cookies.
Elliot’s favorite is double chocolate chunk cookies. I smile. Elliot is my intelligent, shy, quiet, and sensitive son. He’s also the one I believe will follow in Henry’s footsteps and move to the other side of the country when he graduates from college. I don’t like the thought, but I know I’ve done an excellent job. The job I was supposed to do for my boys to be stable and secure enough to go out and reach for their dreams wherever they take them.
I go to the mudroom to see if I have a brown paper grocery bag. Drew, my youngest, loves puppy chow. He can eat it until he makes himself sick to his belly.
I giggle. I’ll attach a note for him to share some with Elliot and take a couple of his cookies. Elliot and Drew both are at Northwestern University in Illinois. I have a special bond and closeness with all of my boys, but Drew, the youngest, was the only one living at home when his dad moved out. Unfortunately, he saw me fall apart on many occasions. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but he took care of me for the first few months after Jake moved out of the house.
I refuse to let my mind go back to those days; I can’t change any of it, I can’t change that part of our lives, it’s over. “Look forward, forward, forward, Willow.”
I scoot the powder sugar over and place it by the brown paper bag. Looking around my kitchen, I can see that every available counter space is covered. I’m ready to bake.
I glance down at my pretty pale-pink shirt dress and think about how inadequate I felt earlier today at lunch. “Who the heck cares, Willow?”