Authors: Robin Jones Gunn
I closed my eyes and opened them again. I wasn’t dreaming. This strange and wonderful morning really was happening.
My cell phone rang in my shorts pocket, and I knew I was still in the real world. It was Laurie.
“Look up,” she said.
I looked at the sky over the ocean.
“No, behind you. Look up at the hotel,” she said laughing.
The beach was lined with one tall hotel after another. For Laurie to stand on our lanai and spot me on the nearly deserted beach was one thing. For me to look up and distinguish which lanai was attached to our hotel room was another thing altogether.
But that Laurie! She had hung the red floral bedspread over the railing and was waving it at me like a banner of freedom.
“Laurie, you better not drop that bedspread!”
“I have a good grip on it. What do you think? Does it look better from a distance?”
“Gorgeous. Or what was your word? Ostentatious!”
“No, my word was
works, too. So who was that you were talking to?”
“I don’t know. I honestly thought she was an angel at first. Not that I’ve ever seen an angel. But, Laurie, it was bizarre in a wonderful way. She appeared out of nowhere and was all lit up, and she sang over the ocean.” I realized I was using my free arm to gesture as if Laurie could see me clearly from her perch.
“Hope, look behind you.”
I turned to see several early-morning strollers stopped in their tracks watching, as I appeared to be talking to the hotel,
using big arm motions and saying I had seen an angel.
“It’s my roommate.” I held out my cell phone and nodded toward the lanai. “Do you see the one with the bright red bedspread?”
That Laurie! She had pulled in all the colors. I could hear her laughing over the phone, tucked away in the privacy of our hotel room.
“I can’t believe you did that!” I walked quickly toward the hotel, masking my laughter. “Just because it’s your birthday, don’t think you can get away with all kinds of Waikiki wackiness. I was your wallflower last night, but I’m not posing for you anymore.”
“Waikiki wackiness?” Laurie repeated. “Hey, I’m not the one strolling around before dawn looking for angels.”
“I wasn’t looking for angels. She found me. You saw her. She was a real person. I had a very spiritual moment, so don’t ruin it for me.”
“Okay, I won’t. Hey, do you want to bring some breakfast back up with you? Or should I order room service?”
“I’ll bring something. What’s your request, Miss Birthday Princess?”
“Coffee. Tall, dark, and caffeinated.”
“Yes, something full of sugar and butter and white flour. Doesn’t matter what shape it takes. Throw in some chocolate, and I’d say my four basic vacation food groups will be covered.”
“Not dieting this week?”
“No, I’m going to eat whatever I want and not regret a single bite. Go ahead, surprise me with something decadent.”
Laurie had no complaints about the coffee and the chocolate-filled croissant I picked up for her at the espresso cart in the lobby. I also brought an assortment of brochures from the concierge, which we spread out on my tidy bed to discuss our options for the week after we enjoyed our breakfast on the lanai.
“Didn’t you get yourself a coffee?” Laurie watched me take a sip of my bottled water.
“No, I packed some loose tea, but I only want water right now.”
“Of course you brought loose tea with you. Any chance you brought some Ladybug tea?”
“As a matter of fact, I did.”
I went into the room where I pulled two small wrapped gifts from my nearly emptied suitcase. “Happy birthday,” I said, handing the presents to Laurie.
“Hey, I thought we agreed we weren’t going to give each other presents. This trip is our present to each other, remember? That’s what you said.”
“I know. It’s just some Ladybug tea and another little something. Go ahead, open them.”
Laurie peeled back the wrapping on a small framed photo of the two of us that was taken our freshman year of college.
“Look at us! We were so young! Look at our hair! Where did you find this?”
“In a box. I came across it a few months ago and had a copy made. I have a duplicate on my dresser at home.”
“I love it. Thanks, Hope. What a treasure. Thanks for the tea. I’m almost out. I haven’t asked you how things have been at work. What’s been happening at the Ladybug Tea and Cakes?”
“It’s been slow, but it always is in January.”
“I know you know this, but I love bragging about you and how you and your neighbor started with nothing more than a loan from the bank and a lot of renovations provided by your husband.”
“We paid off the loan last month. Did I tell you that?”
“Hope, that’s incredible. Do you know how many small businesses go under in the first five years?”
“No, and don’t tell me. Our little teahouse will start its fifth year in May, so we’re not out of the disaster statistics yet.”
“But you’re doing something you love, you’re successful at it, and you’re still able to be home when you want. You’re living a dream, Hope. I wish I could find something like that to do. I feel so … so …”
I looked over at Laurie, and right behind her a brilliant rainbow had appeared. It seemed to form a perfect arch over her head like a tiara. Reaching for her camera strung over the back of her chair I said, “Laurie, whatever you do, don’t move.”
hat is it? A bug? A spider? It’s not one of those gecko lizards, is it?” Laurie had never done well with creepy, crawling creatures.
“It’s a rainbow,” I said. “You have a rainbow coming out of your eyebrow, and I want to capture it. Hold still.”
“Coming out of my eyebrow? Hope, don’t line up the shot so that it looks freaky.”
“What? You don’t want to look like you’re growing strange, multicolor appendages out of your forehead?”
“Let me think … No!” She grabbed for the camera and turned to face the rainbow. “Oh, that is gorgeous!”
“I told you.”
“It’s gorgeous because it’s right there, hanging in the sky, all by itself, where it’s supposed to be. If it were shooting out of my eyebrow, it would no longer look gorgeous.”
A ringing in my pocket interrupted our banter. I pulled out
my cell phone and was surprised to see Darren’s name appear on my caller screen.
“Hi, is everything okay?”
“We’re fine,” he said. “What about you?”
“Great! Laurie and I are having breakfast on the lanai, and one of us—” I gave Laurie a little smirk—“is trying to take pictures of a rainbow.”
“So, you got there okay?” Darren sounded edgy.
“Yes. We both got here with only a few problems, but everything is fine.”
“I hadn’t heard from you, so I didn’t know if everything was okay.”
“Darren, I’m sorry. I should have called when I arrived last night. I figured it would be so late at home that you would be in bed.”
“I probably was still up,” he said quietly. “I’m glad everything is going well.”
“Yes. It’s beautiful here.”
“Okay. Well, the boys are fine, and I’m fine. We’re out of dish soap. Other than that, everything is fine.”
My big, tough husband sounded like a lost puppy. Who would have guessed it? I wondered if I might be appreciated more when I got home. Not a bad thing, with a baby on the way.
“I love you,” I told him.
“I love you, too. Have a good time.”
“We will. Bye.”
“Everything okay?” Laurie asked.
“They’re out of dish soap.”
“Oh.” She gave a knowing nod. “That happens sometimes.”
“You better call Gabe before he calls here next.”
“I already did. Called at the airport as soon as the plane landed. Rule number one: Always call home the minute the plane lands.”
“Really. And what’s rule number two?”
“Never laugh about anything when they call. Try to sound a little tired, a little sad.”
“Rule number three is always: Tell them you miss them and that you love them. You have to say the part about missing them first before they believe you about the loving them.”
“Got it. So, how did you get so wise in matters of the home?”
Laurie leaned back in her chair and gazed toward the ocean with a regal air. “It must be the gift of old age. You’ll find out soon enough, my dear.”
Her stately profile was perfectly lined up so that the lingering rainbow now appeared to come right out of her nose. I grabbed the camera and took the shot.
Rule number one: Never ask Laurie if you can take her picture. Just take it
She turned to check on the rainbow and then glared at me. “You didn’t make it look like that rainbow was coming out of my eyebrow, did you?”
“No,” I answered. “It wasn’t coming out of your eyebrow.”
That was when I realized why I enjoyed Laurie so much. I was raised with two younger brothers. Or perhaps I should say I helped raise two younger brothers. Now I was raising three boys. Growing up, my dearest, secret wish had been to have a sister. A twin, preferably.
When Laurie and I felt close enough as college roomies to have yelling matches over who was leaving junk on whose side of the room, I realized my wish had come true. Laurie was the closest thing to a real sister I would ever know. I adored her.
“What do you want to do today?” I asked the birthday girl.
She drew in a deep breath. “I think I want to show you something. Wait here.”
I gazed at the ocean while she went into the bedroom. I kept thinking about the rainbow displacement shot and reveled in the delicious anticipation of hearing Laurie squeak when I got the photos developed. I determined I would borrow her camera often in the next few days. That way I’d finish off a roll and suggest we take it to a one-hour photo lab.
I could feel the side of my left leg heating up. Even though the day was still young, the sun’s intensity made me nervous about getting branded with a strange sunburn splotch on my thigh.
“Laurie, could you grab my sunscreen while you’re in there?”
She returned with the lotion and a brown leather portfolio. “This is what I want to show you. Please don’t put on the lotion yet; it might leave marks on these if it’s still on your fingers.”
I turned so the sun wasn’t hitting my leg directly and opened the portfolio. Inside was a stack of enlarged photographs. The first one was in black and white and focused on a fascinating pair of weathered hands tearing off a piece of bread. I couldn’t take my eyes off the photo.
“That’s Gabe’s grandmother. I took it three summers ago. Don’t say anything yet. Just take a look.”
I noted that Laurie had identified the picture as being Gabe’s grandmother. She didn’t say it was his grandmother’s hands, but rather it was his grandmother. Going through the pictures one by one, she continued to label each person with the shot, even though the photo was of only part of that person. The part represented the whole.
My favorite was the one of Gabe with their black Labrador when Trooper was a puppy. The focus was on Gabe’s chin, neck, and part of his shoulder. His head was tilted all the way back, his mouth open in full laughter, and the puppy’s pink tongue was just about to go in for another tickle-lick of Gabe’s neck.
“Laurie, these are absolutely amazing. Incredible! You told me you were taking lots of pictures lately, but I thought you meant a bunch of snapshots for a scrapbook or something. You’re very good at capturing the essence of the person or the moment. I’m blown away at how magnificent these are.”
“Do you really think so, Hope?” Her gaze was critical. A valley had formed between her eyebrows. “You’re not just saying that.”
“No! Of course not.”
She bit her thumbnail. “I knew you would be honest with me. Tell me you’re being honest with me.”
“Of course I’m being honest. You know that I am. These are exceptionally wonderful photos, and you should do something with them.”
“I don’t know. What does Gabe think?”
Laurie shook her head. The deep crevice remained between her stormy brows.
“What? He doesn’t like them?”
“He hasn’t seen them.”
Laurie closed up the portfolio, took it away from me, and went into the room.
I followed her. “Why haven’t you shown these to Gabe?”
“I don’t think I could bear it if he said anything negative about them. I show him the other family shots I take. But I always pull out the special few. I’ve been saving them.”
“You’ve been hiding them,” I corrected her.
I could tell Laurie didn’t like what I said, but she took it from me like a champ. “Okay, hiding them. I’ve been hiding the pictures and saving them for just the right moment to show Gabe. I decided to bring them and show you first. I thought you could coach me on how to work up the courage to show Gabe.”
“Why are you so afraid of his criticism? Maybe I don’t understand,
but it’s art, right? You’ve told me before that art is subjective. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s his preference.”
“I know, but Gabe is … well, you know, he’s the master painter. The sought-after artist. He’s the creative one in our family. I just make life happen for everyone else. But now I have these photos, and they’re burning a hole in my heart.”