“Where were you last night?” Drusilla Tonnelier asked as she massaged my scalp with strong well-trained fingers. “We missed you at the women’s group dinner.”
Someone who didn't know her better might mistake her question for nosiness, but Dru and I went back way too many years. I knew she asked out of honest concern.
“I'm sorry I missed the potluck, Dru. Something came up at the last minute. You know how that goes,” I answered. I opened my eyes a little, risking a shampoo assault on them. I read the puzzlement on her face.
“Well, everyone asked after you. You haven't missed a single meeting since you came home. At least, not until last night. We were all worried about you, is all.”
I closed my eyes again as Drusilla’s ministrations moved to the base of my skull. My budget was usually pretty tight, but a quarterly visit to my old school chum’s Head to Toe Salon was a luxury I allowed myself. Her shampooing technique was a big part of the reason. My friendship with her was the other.
When we were in elementary school, Drusilla pulled a bully off of me. At seven, I was all gangly limbs and big eyeglasses, a preadolescent bug of irregular proportions – the perfect target for schoolyard bullies. When an eight-year-old decided to make me her victim of choice, I felt powerless. Then a red headed rescuer stepped in to save me.
Dru’s upbringing in a big family had prepared her well for standing her ground against all comers. My childhood had consisted of all books and board games and gingham skirts. I had no idea of how to protect myself, until I met her.
Our friendship grew as we did. She taught me the rough and tumble games I needed to know to survive in public school. I helped her with arithmetic and reading. Her carrot top bounced in a ponytail while my darker ash locks swung in precise braids as we ran through our school years. Those braids were courtesy of Dru’s talented hands. By high school, her propensity for hair styling helped her earn spending money. She practiced on my hair by the hour and I regularly drew positive attention for the elegant design or exotic styles she had created on my head.
Not long after I left Cypress Point, Dru went off to beauty school. Her career took her to big name salons in New Orleans, then Chicago and eventually New York. Ten years ago, she had “retired” and come home to open her own little shop in her house. She worked part time and only on people she wanted to have around her. Retirement on her own terms-nice. I felt honored to be one of those people she was willing to see and I'm sure the ladies over at Cypress Terrace Senior Living felt the same way. Drusilla volunteered her services there once a month.
Today, though, I had to keep a secret. For Drusilla’s sake, I couldn't let any hint of what I knew slip. She couldn’t know what I knew.
“Nothing to worry about,” I said, as I indulged in an appreciation of the gentle coconut fragrance which filled the air. “Just a last minute call from one of the shops that handle my crochet work. The proprietor had an idea for a special promotion and wanted my opinion. We got to talking and planning and time got away from me. Before I knew it, I had missed the dinner.” The overspray tickled my forehead as Dru rinsed the shampoo from my hair, just as my evasiveness tickled my conscience.
“Good, I'm glad it wasn't a problem. Hope said she didn’t know where you were, and she seemed a little touchy about it. Your big sister doesn’t like to be left out of what’s going on, I guess.” Drusilla chuckled as she applied silky conditioner to my gray tresses. How was my hair gray when hers was still red?
“Even after all these years, Hope is still mothering me,” I mumbled as she worked the treatment through my hair. “I don’t think she wants to admit I’m all grown up.”
Drusilla laughed, a joyful guffaw that reminded me of our school days.
“Your sister mothers everybody! There isn’t a young person at the church who doesn’t think of her as a second mother or grandmother. When the good Lord made Hope, He made one of a kind. But I know she’s awfully glad to have you back in town.”
“I’m glad to be back and I don’t begrudge her mothering me one little bit. I just wish I’d have listened to her back in the day instead of falling for the whole big romance story Jess McKay spun out for me. Hope has way more common sense than any five other people I know, all put together.”
“She is something else, isn’t she?” Drusilla asked as she gave my hair a final rinse. “So will you be having some big event for your merchant friend? Tell me all about it when I get you over to my station.” She wrapped a sunny yellow towel around my dripping hair and helped me sit up from the shampoo bowl. We made our way to her mirrored workstation in tandem, just as we always did. Seems like we've been walking in step nearly all of our lives.
She settled me in the chair and draped the yellow cape around my neck. Once she was satisfied my clothing was protected, she attached several hair clips to the collar of her smock. Then she grabbed her comb and a pair of styling shears.
“We may have a fancy shindig in November, if I can get enough items finished to make it worth his while. I’ll be digging in for a few weeks to try to make that happen.” I settled into a comfortable position on the chair and Dru worked the foot pedal.
“Well, that sounds like fun. Let me tell you what we're working on for the next meeting,” she continued as she began her styling magic.
By the time she finished detailing the special project the women’s group would work on next month following our potluck, she was also finished trimming and drying my hair. Hugs went to her along with my check and I headed back to my house, my secret safely kept.
“You didn’t let anything slip to Drusilla, did you?” asked Hope later that morning. She must have smelled the fresh coffee I put on when I got home. “I know how hard it is for you to keep a secret. You're so transparent,” she laughed.
“My lips were sealed,” I assured her. “I told her I was conferring with a client and lost track of time. She talked all about what I missed last night and what the group is doing. The church wide Thanksgiving social sounds like a big undertaking, but fun.”
“Yes, and we’ll have a great turnout, I’ll bet. But first things first, how did your meeting with Robin Claridge go?” Trust Hope to go right to the point.
“Robin loves the idea of making the announcement into a party. She’s offered us the use of the Cypress Terrace community room at no charge and will supply the pineapple punch her residents love so much at parties. We will bring everything else.” I just love delivering good news!
Hope’s smile spoke volumes. “Thanks for meeting with her, Mercy. She was only available last night unless we wanted to wait three weeks. She’s one busy lady.”
“Yep, but she’s so organized its downright scary.” I found myself liking Robin Claridge the first time I met her and my respect for her had only grown with time. As the director of Cypress Terrace Senior Living and the neighboring Cypress Point Senior Center, she worked in both the public and private sector to make life better for all of the senior citizens in and around Cypress Point.
“She’s been a good friend to many folks around here. I always enjoy working with her on projects.” Hope smiled as she spoke of the lady. “Is there anything else we need to do before the big day?”
“Just notify everyone who’s invited and stress the need for absolute secrecy!” I replied. I’d done my part to keep things under wraps and didn’t want someone else to leak our plans.
Hope nodded agreement and we drank our coffee, filling ourselves with caffeine and warm feelings.
When the big day arrived, I headed over to Cypress Terrace with my little car packed full of goodies. Trays of vegetables and hors d’oeuvres made by me shared space with tea cakes and petit fours donated by Pam Palmer and an elegant cheese tray from Lindy Larson. Hope and Susannah were bringing finger sandwiches and other members of our women’s circle would add their contributions. Roberta Seal had donated paper goods and would join us as soon as her husband relieved her at the grocery. I looked forward to a day as bright and cheerful as the autumn sun shining in the clear blue sky.
Even before I entered the building, I could hear greetings exchanged and happy laughter as people gathered for the celebration. Each of us hurried into the building with our luscious contributions eager to be out of sight before the guest of honor arrived.
The community room seemed packed to the rafters with people and treats. Yet we all found room to display our food offerings and make the rounds for hugs from old friends. The group eddied and swirled around the room with new arrivals. At 1:55 p.m., Robin Claridge stepped through the doorway and called for silence.
“Drusilla has just arrived in the parking lot. Places, everyone!” She closed the door behind her and electric anticipation replaced the sounds of conversation.
Moments later, Robin’s voice penetrated the closed door.
“I’m so sorry, Drusilla. I’ll bet she forgot her appointment and came to check on the bridge tournament. You’ll probably find her in the community room.”
Dru laughed and assured Robin there was no problem. The doorknob turned and all of us inhaled. As Drusilla pushed the door open, our little Greek chorus yelled “Surprise!”
The expression on Dru’s face reflected first shock, then surprise, the confusion. Her tote bag of combs and curlers hit the floor as she lost her grip. She looked around the room and recognition began to dawn. Robin came in behind her and wrapped the stunned stylist in a hug.
“Drusilla Tonnelier, today marks the first Volunteer of the Month celebration here at Cypress Terrace. You’ve been selected for the honor. Your contribution of time, skills and caring helps our residents look and feel as beautiful outside as they are inside. Congratulations and thank you for all you do!” Robin’s speech was nearly drowned out by the cheers and applause of the residents and guests gathered in the room.
I watched my friend sputter and tear up as she realized we had gathered on her behalf. Her gaze met mine and she smiled at me. I crossed to her side.
“Dru, you look a little overwhelmed. How about something to eat?” I took her elbow and guided her toward the tables laden with treats. There I pointed out to her the sheet cake baked and decorated by the Cypress Terrace kitchen staff, celebrating her day.
Robin brought out a wrapped box and presented it to Drusilla.
“With deep appreciation of all you do, my dear,” she said.
Drusilla accepted the package and unwrapped it in silence. Then she held up the framed certificate which it contained.
“Wow, this is beautiful!” she said. “Thank you all so much. I’m sure I get just as much out of my visits as the ladies do. I come here because I love you all and love helping out. Thank you for this beautiful gesture I appreciate your kindness.”
Before anyone else could speak, a thin voice came from nearby.
“Does this mean you’ll do my hair this afternoon, Drusilla?” All heads turned toward Mrs. Garnman.
“Yes, ma’am, it surely does,” laughed Drusilla.
Mrs. Garnman’s smile spread across her face. “Then let’s eat.”
And we did.
© 2016 Mary Beth Magee BOTR Press, LLC