Authors: Deanna Lynn Sletten
Maggie's phone woke her with a start. She quickly grabbed it off the nightstand and fumbled to find the send button in the dark hotel room. "Hello?" she said, her heart pounding wildly. She glanced at the clock. It was only six in the morning.
"Mom?" came the soft voice on the other end. Maggie recognized Kaia's voice instantly, and fell back onto her pillows with relief.
"Hi, dear. It's early. What's going on?"
Kaia voice remained soft. "Mom, are you mad at me?"
Maggie sat up, still trying to clear her head of sleep. "Mad at you? What do you mean?"
"For skipping school and getting my eyebrow pierced. I heard Dad talking to you yesterday, but he didn't tell me what you'd said."
Maggie reached over and snapped on the bedside light. It was eight o'clock back home, so Kaia was up and wide awake, but Maggie's head was still foggy with sleep. She hadn't had time to dwell on the events of the day before as Kaia had.
"Mom?" Kaia asked, checking to make sure her mom was still on the line.
"I'm still here," Maggie said softly. "No. I'm not mad at you. I am disappointed in you, though, for skipping school. You've never done anything like that before, and it surprised me."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Kaia said.
Maggie heard the sincerity in Kaia's voice. "Why did you do it? Did it have something to do with me leaving?" Last night, Maggie had thought over what Kaia had done and couldn't help but feel she was to blame for her daughter's actions. After all, Kaia had always had her mother to depend on, and then one day, her mom disappeared. Even though Maggie had good reasons for walking away, she couldn't help but feel guilty.
"I don't know," Kaia said. "I was mad at you after you left, but I know now that what I did was stupid. It's just, well, Dad was being all weird about you leaving and yelling at us and making all these new rules, and I just felt like I couldn't stand it."
"I'm sorry you were angry with me, Kaia, but I'm glad to hear that you understand you did the wrong thing. Your dad is having a rough time right now. He's not used to having so much responsibility at home, and I'm sure it's making him crazy. You just have to give him a break, okay? If something is upsetting you, talk to him instead of acting out. He really will listen, if you give him a chance." Maggie could practically hear Kaia's eye-roll over the distance, and this made her smile.
"Okay, Mom," Kaia finally answered. "I'll try." Then, in a quieter voice, Kaia asked, "Mom, did you leave because of me? I wasn't very nice to you that morning. I know that. I guess I haven't really been very nice to you for a while. I'm sorry if the way I acted made you want to leave. I promise I'll be better if you come home."
Maggie's heart broke as Kaia's words tumbled across the distance between them. Her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, sweetie, no. I didn't leave because of you," she said, swiping away the tears that had fallen down her cheeks. "I love you. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Then why, Mom? Was it Dad? Was it Kyle? Why did you leave?"
"I just needed some time away," Maggie said honestly. "Honey, I know it's hard to understand, but so much has happened over the past couple of years that it all just kind of crept up on me. I know running away isn't the right thing to do, but I really needed some time to myself. Can you understand that?"
"Because of Grandpa and Aunt Amy dying?" Kaia asked.
"Yes, that had a lot to do with it, honey."
"Okay," Kaia said. "I know how sad you were when they both died. I guess I can understand why you'd want to go away for a while."
Maggie smiled, feeling better now that she and Kaia had cleared the air. "Thanks, honey."
"You will be coming home though, right?" Kaia asked, sounding like a little girl again.
"Yes, dear. I will be coming home. I could never leave my children behind," Maggie said with certainty. Her mother had walked away from her and Amy, and Maggie knew how devastating that had felt. She'd never do that to her own kids.
"Can I call you whenever I want?" Kaia asked, sounding relieved to hear her mother would be coming home.
"Anytime you want," Maggie assured her.
"And Kaia? Will you help your dad out around the house? I think he's going to need your help more than ever while I'm gone."
"Sure," Kaia answered. "We're going grocery shopping tonight after school, then cooking dinner. Dinner hasn't been very good since you left."
Maggie laughed and that made Kaia giggle, too.
"About the piercing. Is it okay if I keep it?"
Maggie chuckled to herself. A week ago, she would have said absolutely no, but a lot had changed in only a few days. "Why don't you keep it for now, and we'll see how you feel about it when I get back, okay?"
"Thanks, Mom," Kaia squealed.
After they hung up, Maggie felt a little lighter, as if another weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Since Maggie was already awake, she decided to get dressed and head out in search of breakfast. She hadn't gone out the night before, opting instead to stay in her room and go to bed early. Her conversation with Andrew had dampened her spirits, and she knew she wouldn't enjoy herself if she'd gone out. But today was different. The weather outside was beautiful, and she wasn't going to waste the day. She planned on driving outside of town to take photos of Reno with the Sierra Nevada Mountains as a backdrop, then drive to Lake Tahoe for even more beautiful photos.
She took the elevator down to the casino and went in search of a restaurant that served breakfast. The casino was busy, even this early in the morning. The chandeliers twinkled overhead as the sound of slot machines jingled all around. Casinos were built for never-ending pleasure with no clocks to tell the time or windows to determine if it's night or day. It was a make-believe world, and even though it was fun to visit, Maggie knew she wouldn’t be staying long.
Maggie found a buffet that served breakfast and waited in a long line behind other hungry hotel guests until it was her turn to be seated. The hostess seated her at one of many small tables that lined one side of the restaurant, where there was a booth seat on one side of the table and a chair on the other. As soon as the waitress took her beverage order, Maggie slid her purse and camera bag over her shoulder and headed over to fill a plate with an array of breakfast foods.
Soon, Maggie was back at her table with a full plate in front of her. There had been such a variety to choose from that Maggie tried a little of everything that she liked. She knew she was going to be out walking all day, so she didn't feel guilty about all the food she'd piled on her plate.
Maggie was biting into a crispy piece of bacon when she was startled by a shadow that fell over her. Looking up, she saw a woman with thick, curly brown hair and elaborate eye shadow staring down at her.
"Sorry if I startled you," the woman said. "I've been walking all over this place, trying to find my table, but for the life of me, I can't seem to find it. Honestly, I think someone else sat down at my table."
Maggie saw the woman had a large bag strung over her shoulder and was carrying a plate of food piled just as high as Maggie's. Looking around, Maggie couldn't see an empty table anywhere either.
"Would you mind if I sit with you?" the woman asked. "It's just so crazy busy in here."
Maggie looked the woman over quickly before answering. She was of average height, just a little shorter than Maggie, and she was a little on the plump side. Her dark hair was shoulder-length, shiny, and healthy looking, with lovely auburn highlights. Her makeup was rather thick, but not too crazy, and even though her hot pink T-shirt was rather loud, her black trousers toned it down a bit. All in all, she seemed harmless, so Maggie waved her hand toward the empty chair. "Of course. Please, sit down."
The woman let out a sigh of relief, as she plopped down into the seat, setting her plate on the table and letting her big, heavy bag drop off her shoulder and onto the floor beside her. "Thanks so much. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, and that bag sure is heavy." She smiled a friendly smile. Her lipstick matched her hot pink tee. "I'm Roberta, but my friends call me Bobbi."
Maggie stopped chewing her bacon for one brief second as she stared at the woman across from her. Bobbi. Another Bob? Was this a running joke? With a grin she said, "I'm Maggie. Nice to meet you, Bobbi."
Bobbi broke off a piece of the large, blueberry muffin on her plate and popped it into her mouth. "So, are you here for the hairstylist convention, too?" she asked.
Maggie was enjoying some of the fresh fruit she had piled on her plate. She looked up at Bobbi. "No, I'm just passing through. Is that why this town is so busy? Because of the hairstylist convention?"
"Yep. I come to this one every year. The workshops help me keep up-to-date on the latest trends, and the casinos are just plain fun. Except this year, no one from the salon where I work came along, so I'm kind of on my own."
"Where do you live?" Maggie asked.
"San Diego. Ever been there?"
Maggie shook her head. "No, but we were stationed north of San Diego in San Pedro for a while, years ago before we moved back to Seattle where my dad was from. I was a Navy brat."
Bobbi grinned. "Navy brat, huh? Well, being from San Diego, I know a lot about Navy brats, and you sure don't fit the part. Do you still live in Seattle?"
"No. I live in Minnesota now. A small town in the upper northwestern part of the state."
A waitress came by then and brought Maggie a refill on her milk. Bobbi ordered a diet soda.
"For breakfast?" Maggie asked, half teasing.
"You sound like a mom. Is your family here with you?"
Maggie's brows rose.
"I see your wedding ring. I'm just assuming you have a husband and family to go with it," Bobbi said.
"Oh, yeah, well, I do. But they're not with me. I'm doing some traveling and heading to see relatives in Seattle." Until she said this, Maggie hadn't even thought about going to Seattle, but now she realized that she'd been heading that way all along. Even though her sister and father were both gone, she had a cousin she was close to that she could stay with awhile. And the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea of seeing Cassie and her husband, Matt, and their kids.
The two ate their food and watched as people came and went. The restaurant was very busy, and now that Bobbi had mentioned the hairstylist convention, Maggie noticed large groups of woman and several women sitting alone. Most had beautiful hair, or extreme hairstyles, and many were dressed professionally, as if they were going off to work. Maggie assumed that most of them were there for the convention. Seeing so many women in one place made her feel less out of place than she'd felt originally.
At one point, Bobbi had to move her bag to the other side of her chair when some people were seated at the table right next to them. She seemed to struggle under its weight, and Maggie was curious what was in it.
"Mind if I ask why such a big bag?"
Bobbi chuckled. "It's full of free samples and some of my hairstyling equipment I'll need for the next workshop. The workshops are very hands-on, and some have volunteers who let us try out new styles or techniques on them." Bobbi stared at Maggie a minute, and it looked like a light bulb went off in her brown eyes. "Hey, would you like to volunteer at my coloring workshop? It's tomorrow morning, and I know they're still looking for more people for us work on."
Maggie reached up and touched her blonde hair, her face growing serious. "Is there something wrong with my hair the way it is?"
"Oh, no, don't take offense. It was just an idea. It'd be a great way to get a free color job. I was just thinking that you could use highlights, and I could help you get rid of that little bit of gray at the roots."
Maggie frowned. She hadn't realized the little bit of gray in her hair was so obvious. "Thanks, but I'm not sure what I'm doing tomorrow." Maggie planned on spending a lot of time taking photos around Reno and driving up to Lake Tahoe to explore and take pictures. After that, she'd be on the road again, heading further west.
"I'm sorry if I offended you," Bobbi said, looking contrite. "I just thought you might like to freshen up your color. That's all." She finished eating the food on her plate, and then asked Maggie if she'd mind watching her bag while she went to get more. Of course, Maggie didn't mind.
Maggie felt full and satisfied by the time she'd emptied her plate. She and Bobbi had a pleasant conversation about Reno and Tahoe, and the many things to do around here. They also talked a little about their lives. She found out that Bobbi was thirty-two years old and single but still looking for Mr. Right. Maggie told Bobbi a little about her husband and kids, leaving out the details of why she was here on her own. Bobbi seemed like a nice, normal person, and Maggie enjoyed her company. She was happy she hadn't eaten breakfast alone after all.
Bobbi looked at her watch, then said it was time to go to her next workshop. "It was so nice visiting with you," she told Maggie. "This is the last workshop of the day for me. Any chance you might want to get together later and go casino hopping or see a show?"
"That sounds like fun, but I plan on spending the day driving around and taking photos. I'm driving to Lake Tahoe in a couple of hours and hope to get a few good shots."
"Oooh. Could I go with you? I don't have my car here, and I'd love to ride to Tahoe. I mean, if I won't be in your way or anything. We could even eat dinner at one of the casinos there." Bobbi looked hopeful.
Maggie thought about it for only a moment. Bobbi had an easy, friendly way about her, and she was good company. Maggie thought it might be fun to have someone go along. "I don't mind, but I have to warn you, we'll be walking a lot, especially in wooded areas."
Bobbi clapped her hands together. "That sounds great. I'll be sure to put on my walking shoes and jeans. I can be ready by noon. Is that okay?"