Meg set the table with her best dinnerware and flatware. She almost never had wine at dinner, but tonight opened a 1997 Château Lafitte to let it breathe as she awaited the birthday boy. She hoped he’d be in his Army khakis, showing off his sergeant stripes and combat medals. He was only six months out of high school when he signed up, a mere boy. Today she expected to see a man walk through the front door. He no doubt shaved every day, boyhood fuzz history.
She took out the camera from a bottom kitchen drawer, ready to snap his picture the second he entered the front door. Dinner chores finished, she went into the living room, sat down on the couch and leafed through the family album. Several shots at his five-year old birthday party, when he was six, seven, eight… Next she focused on Tommy’s high-school graduation picture, his long brown hair flopping over his face. Cute had turned into handsome.
She dozed off, dreamt about the reunion they were about to have. She cuddled him in the dream, nestled him tightly in her arms, same as the first day he came home from kindergarten when she smothered him with unending kisses and bear hugs. Fountains of tears flowed – from both of them.
When she woke, it was almost ten o’clock. “Tommy,” she called out, “did you sneak in while I was sleeping? Are you there? Stop playing games.” No answer. She realized she was alone. Tommy was late. Very late.
She went back into the dining room and put the albums away, gazed around the spacious room. She loved that dining room, though people always asked why she needed it. “How come you don’t sell this big house, Meg?” “Because I want Tommy to come home to a familiar setting – his home.” She felt strongly about it. He was born here. Raised here. And loved the house just as much as she did. He’ll be thrilled with a home-cooked meal in the big dining room – shrimp and steak and five-layer birthday cake – rather than in the cramped kitchen of a tiny strange apartment.
At midnight she took a sip of the wine – Here’s to you, Tommy – and started for bed, took longer than usual to get ready, hoping to hear the doorbell and Tommy shout, “I’m home, Mom.” The doorbell didn’t ring, phone also silent, and no “I’m home, Mom.” She climbed into bed, pulled the covers over her, but couldn’t sleep – just stared at the ceiling, counting sheep, counting shrimp, counting Tommys.
It didn’t upset her that he was late and hadn’t called. Same as last year. Meg wasn’t worried. He’d be home tomorrow. Or the day after. Surely for his next birthday.
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