"Please fasten your seatbelts," a soothing female voice said over the loudspeaker. "We are beginning our descent into Baltimore-Washington International Airport."
I leaned my head back against the seat and sighed. The plane dipped, my ears popped, and I chewed my gum harder. In a matter of minutes, the plane was on the runway, propelling at full speed ahead to the designated gate.
I stuffed my outdated issue of Seventeen into my bag and waited as the plane finally stopped. I waited as the seatbelt sign was turned off. I waited as tall, mid-life business people rushed to grab their briefcases and bolt out the door. I waited as I held my only carry-on luggage, a worn hobo bag, and stood in line as people slowly poured out the door of the plane.
I walked down the jetway, my stomach turning and erupting with butterflies. In a sea of people barking into their Bluetooths, typing on their Blackberrys, I was the teenage girl in the middle, carrying a vintage bag and meeting my mother for the first time in five years.
I spotted her immediately. She was waiting near the baggage claim, arms crossed over her white short-sleeved button-down. She had changed. Her features looked older, her hair was cut in a neat bob that ended a little above her shoulders, and she was carrying a Coach bag.
She looked up from her phone and gasped, dropping it inside her generic-mom bag. "Erin!" she yelled, running toward me with her arms open wide.
I hugged her stiffly at first, but then I melted into the embrace. It felt good to hug my mom. As much as I loved Grace, she wasn't my real mother, and a little part of me knew it, even when we were painting each others' toenails or when she was French braiding my hair for the homecoming dance.
"Omigod, look at you," Mom said, grinning. "You're an adult!"
"Barely," I said softly. "I'm only fifteen."
"Fifteen? Omigod." Mom fanned her face. "You're so tall. I'm so excited! I have tons of fun things planned for us! I booked us a spa appointment for Tuesday! I know how much you hate getting pedicures, so I told Helen--thats my usual pedicurist--not to insist on anything. Omigod, this is going to be so much fun..."
I let her rattle on about shopping plans and going to the Boardwalk when it opened on June 20th, which was just five short days away. We floated toward the baggage claim conveyer. "Look for a blue Samsonite," I told her when she finally stopped.
Shopping. Pedicures. Boardwalk. I winced as the words repeated themselves in my head.
The conversation continued in the two-hour drive toward Nasbath Beach.
"What do you think? Vintage boutiques sound okay?"
"Um, yeah, totally."
"And the pedicures! I was thinking about getting rosemary toenails this time."
"Oh, great. That's neat."
"Do you like my top? I got it on sale at J Crew! 60% off!"
"Uh-huh. It's great."
The conversation continued until we reached a rickety, wooden sign with Welcome to Nasbath Beach painted on in bright yellow letters. "Yellow because we get buckets of sunshine," Mom told me.
Nasbath Beach looked like those cute little towns you always see in movies. Painted buildings stood wall-to-wall down Main Street. There were about three more streets, each named after a president: Adams St, Clinton Ave, and Jackson Way. Cobblestone paths lined each street, and there was the occasional tree and pedestrian.
Mom's Chevy past a tiny park with a swing set, sandbox, a slide, and two benches. There was an old-fashioned barber, with the red-and-white striped post outside it. Signs and awnings graced each building. Some even had balconies. There were about two stoplights in the entire town. The rest were red STOP signs.
The car turned on Clinton Ave, and the wall-to-wall buildings quickly morphed into a suburbia-type scene. Ranch houses, the occasional two-story, and an apartment lined the tiny, dead-end street. Mom pulled the Chevy into the driveway of a split-level number with green shutters.
"Home sweet home," she said, grinning with pride.
I lugged my Samsonite past the front door and looked around. My room was basically the basement. A large sofa bed sat in front of a flat-screen tv, with a small coffee table off to the side. There was a bathroom, and next to it, the noisy hum of a dryer inside the laundry room. The ground level boasted one bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room. A glass door in the back slid open to reveal a split-level porch. On the porch were three lawn chairs around a glass table that had an umbrella attached, and a small grill.
"Don't you love it?"
"Yeah," I said, carrying my suitcase downstairs.
"Dinner's in twenty minutes. You want to help me? I'm making homemade pizza. I even bought alfredo sauce because I know you love white pizza."
I almost burst into tears. The scene that had been unfolding in front of me since we had passed the crappy Welcome to Nasbath Beach sign was so different than the Mom that I was used to. Long gone was the alcoholic, the one who wore tight jeans and strappy heels. In her place was a suburban, 32-year-old, Coach-bag carrying, J.Crew discount-wearing mom who tailored dinner to her daughter's specific preferences. She was so much like Grace that my eyes began to well into tears.
I kind of missed the old Mom.