My Best Friend’s Mother
I would never meet anyone else like her again, would I?
I should have known better when Mrs. Finley told me to call her by her first name, Nora.
I was fourteen at the time, far more like a gawky sapling tree creature than a fine adolescent specimen, but she actually smiled at me — unlike the girls my own age. I mostly got the stink-eye, a flurry of frantic whispers and giggles, or some combination of both. Nora didn’t avoid looking at me. She even made me a special batch of chocolate chip cookies one day — and she winked at me after telling me not to tell Ben, her son, because chocolate caused his skin to flare up.
Ben may have been my best friend (at the time), but did I ever say a word? Hell no. I hoarded that tupperware filled with cookies and guarded it with my life. I rationed them carefully and savored each one. I mean, really, what if something like that had never happened again?
I saw Nora at various school events — namely weekly football games after Ben made the team in our sophomore year — but Ben and I drifted apart, as these things went. It seemed like he became a jock over night while I just grew in all the wrong places — both figuratively and literally.
I probably would have stayed on that trajectory as a doomed high school loser if I hadn’t gotten a job as a lifeguard at the local pool the summer after sophomore year. The exercise and sun did me good. My skinny arms actually gained definition and a fine coat of tanning.
Some girls who had never given me the time of day before finally cast lingering gazes my way. A few even gave me their numbers, and I reveled in the attention. But the biggest thing? I got to play hero a few times over my stint as a lifeguard — and could you guess who had been on the premises during my fleeting feats of bravery?
I had gotten through one shift on a Saturday when I found Nora waiting for me at the entrance to the pool. She wore a patterned pink summer dress with a straw hat keeping her blond hair covered from the last burst of sun before nightfall. I wondered what type of bathing suit she had worn and why I hadn’t seen her earlier in the day.
“Big hero, huh?” she asked, nudging me with her hand, and her smile was…