"You look great!"
"Thanks, honey. I'm not too soft looking, am I?" Mary stood in front of the full length mirror in the hall, continuously turning from side to side. After each turn, she would poke her waist or push in her stomach.
"You're kidding, right, Mom? No, you're not 'too soft!' I don't think I've ever seen you this nervous!"
"I haven't seen him in twenty-five years! I was a lot younger, and smaller, back then! I don't want him to be too disappointed."
"I'm sure he's changed, too, Mom! Look, you look fantastic! If he is disappointed, then he's a schmuck! I'm glad you decided to do this. It's about time you got yourself back into the dating scene!"
"Your father's only been gone five years, Hannah! Have some respect!"
"I do! I'm sure Dad would have wanted you to go out. Besides, Dad's been gone, physically, for five years, but the cancer started taking him long before that, and you know it!" Hannah paused while giving her mother a hug from behind. Staring in the mirror, Hannah flashed her mother a loving smile. "Now, before he gets here, tell me how you two met. I know you said he's Ellen's brother, but why haven't I met him before this?"
Mother and daughter sat down on the sofa while Mary allowed herself to remember.
"Michael is Ellen's older brother. She has two, actually, and Michael is the younger of the two; Jay is the eldest. I roomed with Ellen in college. She, Anne, Veronica and I lived together from freshman through junior year. I forget why we split up our senior year, but we've remained fast friends since college."
"Go on, Mother!" Hannah exaggerated her frustration with a heavy sigh and a rolling of her eyes. "I know that part! Get to the good stuff!"
"Okay, okay. You know, you'll be lucky to have such good friends after you're through with college," Mary scolded, waving a finger in Hannah's direction. "Anyway, Michael came up before the end of our sophomore year finals to drive Ellen back to Jersey for the summer after her last exam. Everyone else had gone to bed soon after he arrived, but I was still up. I was supposed to be studying for a final the next day. Michael was stretched out on the sofa and I was sitting in one of the chairs. We ended up talking more than I studied!"
"Did he try to kiss you?"
"What? NO! We had just met! Besides, he was the brother of one of my roommates! After breakfast the next morning, we went to our exams and Ellen and Michael were gone before I got back to our dorm. That summer, when Ellen wrote to me, I started noticing these little messages along the back flaps of the envelopes."
"This was long before e-mail and texting. Ellen wrote actual letters, in envelopes, with a stamp." Mary teased her daughter and received another episode of rolling eyes. "Michael started writing little things on the back of the envelope. I don't remember what, now. Maybe things like 'nice to meet you', 'have a good day' -— things like that. After a couple of those messages, I started writing notes on the back of the envelopes when I replied to Ellen's letters. I think I called him the "Phantom Envelope Writer" or something silly like that. After a while, I forget who started it, but we started writing actual letters to each other. I continued to call him 'Phantom', though. And, I remember he signed his letters like that, too. I think he used to call me 'Princess.'"
"Didn't you guys go out on a date at all?! Or see each other after that?"
"The letters continued periodically. Junior year, I drove Ellen home for the summer after finals. I stayed for a couple of days and saw Michael then."
"Did you kiss? Did you sleep with him?"
"Hannah, you forget, that was a different time. Besides, I don't think anyone in Michael's family knew we were writing. I never told Ellen and she never brought it up. When I saw him that summer a bunch of people were around all the time." Mary paused to sigh. "I forget how long we wrote back and forth. Senior year was, definitely, when things changed for us. It was winter time, and he called and said he was going to be in town for work and wanted to take me out to dinner."
"Is that when you slept with him?"
"What is your fixation with me sleeping with him? No, I have NEVER slept with Michael!"
"Did Ellen know you went to dinner with him?" Hannah seemed to ignore her mother's protests and continued with her questions.
"No. As I said, I wasn't living with the others senior year. I was still friends with them, but I didn't think it was necessary to tell Ellen or the others about Michael. I don't think I believed anything would come of it, anyway, so why bother. We had a nice dinner and when he brought me back to the dorm, he was so sweet. He tried to shake my hand good-night!"
"That's sweet? I think it's weird. I've seen pictures of you in college; is he gay?"
Overlooking her daughter's comments, Mary continued. "Well, I could tell he didn't know what to do. I was still rather shy around guys, but I always enjoyed my hugs. Somehow I plucked up the courage and refused his hand but asked for a hug, instead. When he wrapped his arms around me, he felt nice. But, it was over too quickly. Then, he turned to leave and I turned to go inside. Next thing I knew, a snowball landed on the door frame next to me. I turned around and Michael was smiling like a kid at Christmas. Before I could say anything, he ran back to me and pulled me in his arms for a kiss."
"Finally! Did you see him after that?"
"The next time I saw him was at graduation five months later and he was surrounded by his family which, of course, was natural since it was also Ellen's graduation. We didn't write to each other anymore. We just moved on."
"Do you ever wonder what would have happened?"
.... There is more of this story ...