Mary eased her SUV into an empty parking space outside Starbucks. She pulled down the visor mirror to check her lipstick. She sighed heavily, then forced herself to head inside to meet her friends.
Carol and Elaine waved eagerly at her from a cozy booth. Mary nodded and held up a finger, then approached the counter to order a coffee. She was stalling. For once the service was quick, and she knew it was time to face the inevitable as she walked slowly toward her friends.
“We’re so glad you could make it.” Elaine scooted over to make room. “Jody is joining us, too.”
“Well?” Carol asked with a sympathetic smile. “How did college drop off go this weekend?”
Mary smoothed a paper napkin across her lap. “It was fine. She’s all settled in. My baby bird has flown the coop.” She sipped her coffee to suppress erupting emotions.
“You are officially an empty nester. Welcome.” Elaine stirred her steaming latte..
“How does it feel?” Carol bit into her coffee cake.
There was a moment of silence, while Mary debated how to answer. “Can I be honest?”
“Of course,” Elaine blew on her hot coffee.
“I’m not really sure I need a support group to deal with my empty nest. I’m actually pretty excited about this season of my life. After raising three kids, frankly, I’m ready for some me time. Most ladies may be fighting back tears, but I’m fighting spontaneous laughter.”
Elaine and Carol exchanged a look that Mary missed as she continued her monologue. “No more PTF meetings. No more parent teacher conferences. No more typing research papers at two a.m.” Mary’s volume and pace increased with each word. “Do you know how many cupcakes I’ve baked as home room mom through the years?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “More than I can count. I don’t even like to cook. Which is another thing. My kitchen is officially closed.” She stopped suddenly, embarrassed by her tirade. “You must think I’m awful.”
Elaine tilted her head in question. “Did you think this was an empty nest support group?”
“Well....” Mary paused. “Your message said to meet you for coffee so you could provide support.”
At Mary’s words, Elaine almost choked on her coffee. She patted her chest. “No, I said meet us for coffee ‘so we could decide on a resort.’”
Mary was confused. “But you said something about how to deal with this season of my life.”
“I said, ‘There’s a good deal at Four Seasons.’”
“Girlfriend, you should know us better than that.” Carol slapped the air with her hand. “We’re planning our annual Girl’s Weekend.” She pulled out her calendar. “We’ve been hoping you could join us this year.”
Mary looked at her friends. “You mean...you weren’t depressed when your kids finally left either?”
“I admit the quiet was strange at first, but I adjusted quickly,” Carol said. “I was finally able to finish the novel I’d been trying to write for a decade.”
“I learned to swim,” Elaine said proudly. “Can you believe I carted my kids to swim team practice for ten years, but never learned how to swim myself? Now I can!”
“I was thinking about training for a half marathon,” Mary admitted.
“Well, you’re alone on that one,” Carol said defiantly.
Mary sighed contentedly. “I feel so much better hearing you say these things. I’m ready for some me time.”
“You earned it! But don’t get us wrong. We love the me time, but we also use our extra time for ministry. I lead a Good News Club every week at one of the local elementary schools. Elaine volunteers at the Pregnancy Care Center. We’ve been arguing over who needed your help more.”
“Maybe I’ll help both of you.”
“Typical over-eager newbie.” Elaine winked at Carol.
“Look, there’s Jody,” Mary said, leaning forward. “She just dropped her son off at A&M, too. It looks like she’s been crying,” she whispered.
Jody sat down heavily next to Carol. Her bottom lip quivered.
“Are you okay? Do you miss your son?” Mary tried to sound understanding.
Jody returned a confused expression. “That’s not why I’m upset. I’m upset because I finally got all my kids out of the house...” Jody paused to regain her composure. “And my husband announced this morning that HE’s retiring!”
The other three ladies gasped in horror, then did their best to encourage their friend. “You’ve come to the right support group,” Mary said with sympathy.
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