Julia Manning did her best to live an uncomplicated life. Each day, she woke up at exactly 6:14, one minute before her alarm clock started serenading her with the steady tones of the local news station reporting the weather. She shut off her alarm and stared at the ceiling, saying her morning prayers until 6:30, at which point she would force herself out of bed, stagger to the shower, and surrender to the hot water.
After shampooing, rinsing and repeating, she emerged from her shower to dress in the clothes she had laid out the night before. After applying a minimal amount of makeup, she descended the thirteen steps from her apartment to the front door, where she picked up the morning paper and glanced at the headlines. She then turned left and walked eighteen steps to open the bookstore where she had worked for the last eight years of her life.
On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, she volunteered at the St. Francis Nursing Home, where she would bring some old favorites and new releases from the bookstore so that she could read to the residents who were no longer able to read to themselves.
Saturday nights found her at her younger sister Katie’s house, where she babysat her three-year-old nephew Matthew and eighteen-month-old niece Veronica, so that Katie and her firefighter husband Adam could have a desperately-needed date night.
Katie was kind enough to refrain from pointing out that Julia was, in fact, the one who desperately needed a date. But, ever since she had been dumped, literally, at the altar of St. Catherine of Siena Church by Zach Richards ten years ago, as she wore her mother’s wedding dress and tried not to puke, she quite honestly didn’t have the heart for love. She had, instead, resigned herself to a reasonably happy, if uneventful, life as a shop girl, doting aunt, and dutiful daughter. Zach had ruined her for life. Men were a complication she did not need or want.
On Sundays, she slept until 7:00 a.m. She then got up and attended early morning Mass before driving the fifteen miles to her parents’ home, which was plastered with photos of their grandchildren. Here, she would eat breakfast and be subjected to her mother’s “helpful” comments about her appearance, mannerisms, and general state of her life.
“You could be at least reasonably attractive it you would just do something with that hair. I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve started to get some grey. You really should think about coloring it. Maybe you could go red, like your sister. I always felt kind of bad that you didn’t get her good looks. At least those blue eyes of yours are pretty. Still, you could certainly do more with what God gave you.
“And, my goodness, don’t slouch like that. Don’t you know how important it is for a young lady to have good posture? Do you want to end up with a hump like your poor old Aunt Mildred?”
Never mind that poor Aunt Mildred had lived to be a hundred-and-two before dying and that she wasn’t even related, but was instead a friend of the family’s, thereby negating any genetic connection. To her credit, Julia refrained from saying that, bit her tongue and reminded herself repeatedly that she was, in fact, a grown woman capable of taking care of herself and making her own decisions. She tried to keep in mind that her mother would not always be with her and that someday she might actually miss those lectures. She wasn’t fully convinced on that last point, but that is what she told herself.
On the other hand, she always looked forward to seeing her father. He was a man of few words, but the two of them would pass the time playing chess and watching old movies. He had taught her to play chess when she was a little girl, and one might think that all those years of practice might have made her good at the game. That was, unfortunately, not the case. While no one kept an official scorecard of the results, Julia knew her unofficial record was five wins to three thousand four hundred and twenty-seven losses. The five came when her father was suffering from the flu a few years back, but still challenged her to play. If nothing else, she had learned how to lose with grace.
Yes, Julia was reasonably content with her uncomplicated life. She had no idea as she walked into her parents’ house one Sunday morning just how complicated life was about to get.
From The Rose Ring