Iexamined her bright orange curls and wished I had the nerve to dye my own gray mane a younger color. I probably wouldn't choose the hue of a radioactive carrot, however. Perhaps a nice, soft brown, as it was in my youth. "Why are you staring at me?" she demanded.
"Was I? Sorry." I twisted the sponge, which obligingly dribbled water all over my new shoes. "Speaking of gussied up, Grace, you're looking spiffy today. At least, I'm sure you were before the incident with the flour. Let me see, now. Fred's putting on the Ritz and so are you and you just happen to have his favorite meal cooking . . . well, I'm not Sherlock Holmes, but I'm capable of putting two and two together." I wanted to tell her that it was none of her business. I wanted to toss her out on her artificially padded fanny. But me being me and Emma being Emma, I did neither of those things. Instead, I took a seat across from her and sighed. "Fred is coming over to have dinner with me. Satisfied?"
She smacked her orange lips. "Ah. A special dinner for Valentine's Day." I ran my flour-coated hands through my already disheveled hair and groaned. "Please, Emma, he'll be here soon and now I have to change clothes."
"That would be an excellent idea. And do something with that rat's nest on top of your head while you're at it." She snapped her fingers and pushed back her chair. "On second thought, let me! I used to be a hairdresser, after all." I peered at her suspiciously. Emma wasn't the type to pitch in and help out. She usually managed to suddenly remember some urgent errand or appointment if a friend dared to request her assistance.
"Come on, Grace, it'll be fun! We used to do each other's hair all the time when we were teenagers." "Well . . ." The next thing I knew, she had me seated at my bedroom dressing table and was brushing my hair so vigorously that it crackled with static electricity.
"Ouch! Not so hard!" "Oh, hold still. Now, a chignon, do you think? Or is that too old- fashioned? Darn it, Grace, if you'd just cut this mess to a more practical length . . ." "No." Tom had liked my hair long. I've never forgotten how he used to twine it around his fingers as he kissed me. Of course, that was before Emma stole him away from me. Their marriage hadn't been the happiest, but still, she'd shared his home and his bed for forty-two years while my own bed remained empty and lonely. In the mirror, I watched her wield the brush, hairpins sprouting from her mouth. Had I ever really forgiven her? Did anyone really forgive Emma her outrageous behavior, or were we all simply too intimidated to make a fuss?
I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the sharp pulls at my scalp. I'd waited so long for love to find me again, and now, finally, it had. Thinking about Fred gave me a delightful tingly feeling. And he was going to ask me to marry him. Tonight. Just the day before, he'd shown me the ring he always wore on his right pinkie. Slender, silver, studded with tiny turquoise stones.
"It was my mother's," he said. "I'd hoped that my late wife would wear it as a wedding band, but she wanted diamonds. Well, her diamonds are buried with her now, I hope she enjoyed them." "I think it would make a lovely wedding band," I had stammered.
"Do you really?" "I do." I'd blushed at that unintentional lapse into wedding vows, but he didn't seem to mind. He'd held my face between his large hands and smiled down at me. That's when I'd invited him over to Valentine's dinner, and he said he'd love to come, that he had something important to ask me.
"Voila!" Emma exclaimed. My eyes flew open. I gasped. "What have you done to me?" "Magic. Don't you like it?" "I... I love it." I think a part of me had expected her to put gum in my hair, as she'd done when we were in fifth grade. Instead, she'd braided and twisted up a lovely creation, one that softened the prominent bones in my face and seemed to banish the worst of my wrinkles.
"Someday," she said, "I'm going to get rid of that gray for you."
"Would you?" I had a sudden vision of myself walking down the aisle to meet Fred at the altar, my hair suddenly looking as young as the rest of me would feel at that moment. Blinking back tears, I said, "I'd like that, Emma. Someday soon." "Fine. Well, you'd better change. I'll baste the chicken for you, if you like." "Thanks." What had gotten into her? I donned a dress of pale rose and dabbed a little color on my cheeks, then hurried into the living room to get busy with wrapping paper and tape.
"Present for someone?" I jumped. Emma had crept up behind me, an old habit of hers.
"For Fred," I admitted, hoping I wasn't blushing.