“I didn’t mean to make her mad,” I tell Mike, who grabs his towel.
“Ah, don’t worry about her, she’s just going through some stuff. You did nothing wrong,” he says.
“Are you sure? She seemed very upset.”
He nods his head. “I’m sure.”
“No! you’re too cold!” Rachel squeaks as Paul traps her in a tight hug. The look on her face is anything but opposing.
I hear Mike grunt as he takes out his phone. “It’s my mom.”
“Is she okay?” I ask.
“Do you guys mind if we do a pit-stop? My mom asked if I could stop by and chop up some wood for her.” He looks a bit skeptical of his mother’s intentions, but none of us mind.
I do, however, feel a bit nervous about meeting her again. The last time it was a little awkward because I met her without knowing it was her. Plus, Mike and I were in a weird place, and on top of that, I was dressed in sweats and a stained t-shirt for a Christmas Eve service. Now, I’m meeting her again in a swimsuit covered by a tank top and cut off shorts - as his girlfriend. I hope she doesn’t think poor of me...
Once in the truck with Mike, I instantly feel a bit calmer about meeting his mother. It’s hard to be anxious about the unknown while sitting next to a man like Mike. His hair is still wet from the ocean and is acting unruly due to the wind coming through the windows. Something about him just takes away my worried thoughts.
I’m glad he decided to keep his shirt off; it allows me to admire his sculpted tan body and all the different ink designs. It’s a good distraction from my butterflies – I hope she’ll like me.
What if she doesn’t like me?
He’s very relaxed as he drives. An elbow is resting in the window while his hand is laxed on the edge of the steering wheel; his free hand is over my lap, drawing circles on my knee with his fingertips.
“What?” he asks with a raised brow glancing over at me. I know he caught me staring; it’s so hard not to stare at him. I’m just glad I had my mouth closed this time.
“How did you become president of a motorcycle club?” He blinks from surprise, and to be honest - I didn’t realize I would ask that question. I tucked it away in my pocket for a later time, definitely not a question for a car ride – it could be a long story, and I’m not sure how far away his mom lives from the beach. Apparently, my big mouth had other plans.
As if on cue, my suspicions were right as we begin to slow down and pull into a gravel driveway. “Remind me to tell you later.” A smile forms at the corner of his lips. He wraps his hand around the top part of my knee and glances at it.
“What?” I ask with a smile of my own.
The sparkling green eyes dance back at me. “Nothin’. Come on.” Mike winks, then unbuckles his seatbelt, grabs a cut off sleeve t-shirt, and climbs out of the truck. As the door closes behind him, I inspect my knee. What was he looking at?
Oh crap. My face flushes a bit. I missed a spot when I shaved earlier.
I hop out of the truck and am met by Mike, who closes the door behind me and pulls the shirt over his head. Taking in the surroundings, I notice a little white house with red shutters and a red door. There is a small brick pathway to the front stoop with vibrant flowers leading the way. The ocean is practically the backyard with a forest as a neighbor. His mom is quite secluded out here, but at the same time, she has a lot of nature to keep her company.
Paul and Rachel pull up as Mike wraps an arm around my waist. “Don’t worry – she already loves you.” It’s like he’s read my mind. I wish I could read his mind as easily. How could his mom love me already? She doesn’t even know me. How much has he shared with her? Why can’t he open up to me like he does with his mom?
The four of us walk up the stone path to the red door. Mike racks his hand on the door and starts to chuckle at Paul, who adjusts his baseball cap. Paul, Rachel, and I ask him with our eyes with what is so funny.
After a couple of knocks, the door opens. The little lady stands before us with the door open wide and a big smile on her face as she grabs her son for a hug.
“Oh, thank you so much, dear, for coming.” His mother speaks into his chest.
Pulling out of her hug, he introduces us to her. He pints to each of us as our names roll off his tongue. “Ma, meet Paul, Rachel, and you’ve met Elena. Everyone, this is my ma, Carol.”
“Nice to meet all of you, yes. Elena, what a pleasure to see you again.” Without expectation, she pulls me in for a hug. It surprises me on how instantly I feel at home. Her hug reminds me of the closeness I’ve had with my own mother. I miss her so much.
“Nice to see you too,” I say.
“Come in, come in!” She leads us inside the house, and right away, I notice how outdated so many things are, yet it’s homey. She has a red shaggy carpet that matches the door’s red color, a white couch with plastic on it, and an old china hutch. She has very simple tastes. There’s a fireplace with a mantle decorated with Christmas ornaments and the nativity scene.
I turn my attention from the woman’s décor to see her tap the side of Paul’s head.
“Weren’t you taught any manners, young man? You take that hat off when you walk into someone’s house.” She’s not angry, but she is serious. Paul blushes and silently removes his baseball cap from his head. Mike laughs and pats Paul on the shoulder as Carol walks into the kitchen.
“Sorry, man.” Mike doesn’t sound that apologetic.
“You could have warned me,” Paul whines.
Mike shrugs his shoulder. “This was way more fun, though.” Rachel and I both stifle a laugh for poor Paul’s sake.
“Come on in and make yourselves at home,” Carol calls out from the kitchen. We follow the noise of dishes clanking and see flour all over the countertop. She has apples, strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and a couple of pie plates sitting out.
“I was just in the middle of baking a couple of pies. Maybe you girls could help me in here while the boys go cut some wood?” She looks at Rachel and me above her dark-rimmed glasses as if to challenge us to turn her down.
“Ma, I don’t think that –” Mike starts.
Carol puts up a hand to stop her son from talking. “You do not speak for these girls. They have a voice. What do you expect them to do? Sit out there and just watch? Girls, what do you say?”
Lessons. I need lessons from this woman. She doesn’t take any crap from Mike. I don’t like to think that I do either, but sometimes he can be so darn difficult. I need this woman to teach me everything she knows. Maybe I can even dive into who her son really is and how to handle him. Who better to learn from than his mother?
Not wanting to pass on the opportunity to make some pies and talk about Mike, I jump in, “Sounds great! We’d love to help you.” Carol gives a warm smile that meets her eyes.
“We would?” Rachel whispers in my ear. I jab her ribs with my elbow.
“Ow.” She recoils. Rachel has never been one to enjoy cooking or baking – that was more of my thing, but she did love to eat. It’s time she learns a thing or two.
“Alright then, you ladies enjoy yourselves. If any of y’all care, we’ll be breaking our backs out here,” Mike jokes as he kisses my cheek. Paul kisses Rachel with a peck on the lips, and then they take off to the back yard through the kitchen slider.
“I’m glad that boy took my advice in snatching you up.” Carol winks, handing Rachel and me an apron, then she gives us each a task.