“Where’s Mom,” Kenidee asked her father, who was busy pouring Sprite into a punch bowl filled with raspberry sherbet. More people had turned out for her open house than they had planned, but fortunately they had plenty of refreshments for everyone.
Her father didn’t answer but kept pouring.
“Dad!” she exclaimed, reaching for the bottle before the contents in the bowl spilled over the sides.
“Oh, hi, honey. Thanks. I didn’t notice it was almost full.”
“I haven’t seen her for a few minutes,” he responded. “When you find her will you let her know we’re about out of the croissant sandwiches. I hope she has a few more trays somewhere.”
“Sure,” Kenidee replied, wondering where her mother had disappeared. Her mother would never leave guests unattended like this, especially when half the ward and countless friends and neighbors were there to wish Kenidee well as she prepared to leave on her mission. She’d been called to the Florida Tampa Mission and was leaving in a less than a week. The Sunday before she’d spoken in church, and with that behind her now she was ready to go.
“You gave a wonderful talk last week,” Sister Merkley said, as Kenidee walked out of the kitchen and into the dining room. “You’re going to be a marvelous missionary.”
“Thank you, Sister Merkley,” Kenidee replied. “Have you seen my mother?”
“A while ago. She didn’t look well. Probably a headache from all the stress of the open house and getting ready to send her youngest, and her only daughter, on a mission.” Sister Merkley placed a hand on Kenidee’s shoulder and looked at her with sadness. “You’re sure I can’t talk you into staying home and marrying my Gilbert. He’d be such a catch for some lucky girl. He just graduated with his master’s degree in statistics, you know. Some day he’s going to be very successful. Not a bad package, being handsome and successful, wouldn’t you say?”
Kenidee wasn’t sure they were talking about the same person. The only Gilbert whom Kenidee knew was short, bald, and pushing thirty.
“You must be so proud,” Kenidee answered, not sure what to say. Obviously, Sister Merkely hadn’t noticed the tiny promise ring her boyfriend Brendan had given her before he left on his mission. A ring he planned to replace with an engagement ring after they both returned home.
Sister Monson, her mother’s best friend from the ward, walked by just then with a tray full of chocolate chip cookies.
“Sistser Monson, have you seen my mom?”
“I think she needed to get something upstairs,” the woman answered, placing the tray on the large, oval dining table filled to capacity with food.
Giving Sister Merkely a parting smile, Kenidee made a quick escape, dodging as many well-wishers as she could before darting up the stairs.
She opened the door to her parent’s bedroom and peaked inside. There, on the bed was her mother.
“Mom?” She hurried inside. “What’s wrong? Are you sick?”
Her mother opened her eyes and gave her daughter a weak smile.
“Hi, honey. I just came upstairs to change into some comfortable shoes and needed to rest a bit. I’m fine now.”
Kenidee studied her mother’s face, noticing for the first time the dark circles under her eyes and the paleness of her skin. She hoped her mother wasn’t getting sick. Not when she was leaving in a few days.
Vanessa Ashford, a beautiful woman, classy and refined, wasn’t the type to wear sweats and a T-shirt to clean the house or go to the grocery store. She never went out without having her hair done. Vanessa had been raised in Boston, where her father was a doctor and her mother was involved in social events, chairing fund-raisers and organizations in the community.
Her parents hadn’t been very happy when their daughter had fallen in love with a salesman from Utah, but Vanessa loved him and they were married. They ended up in the Bay Area where he worked as a pharmaceutical rep for many years, and eventually [was put in charge of] became responsible for the western states division.
Kenidee and her brother had loved growing up in Palo Alto. There weren’t a lot of LDS students in their high school, but that hadn’t been a problem. Kids seemed to respect the Ashford children for their beliefs and genuinely liked them. Kenidee’s brother, Matthew, was quarterback on the football team and senior class president. Kenidee’s great love was ballet, and she [spent a great deal of time at her ballet studio] dedicated much of her time to the ballet studio. Never a one-dimensional person, she also played on the school’s volleyball and tennis teams and was voted homecoming queen. [They] Both Matthew and Kenidee were well liked at church and at school. Their parents were well respected in the community and in their ward.
Matthew was two years older than his sister. He’d served a mission to Louisville, Kentucky. Then he came home and married his high school sweetheart. He was into his second year of law school at BYU. Kenidee had attended a local community college so she could continue to dance at her studio, with a dream to eventually attend the University of Utah to major in ballet and receive a Master of Fine Arts degree in teaching and choreography. During her second year at college she began to feel that serving a mission was something she needed to do. Her parents, especially her mother, had been supportive of a mission from the very beginning.
“Can I get you anything?” Kenidee asked her mother.
“I’m feeling better now. I’d better get downstairs before we start running out of food.”
“That’s okay, Mom. Sister Monson and the other Relief Society sisters have everything under control.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without Cheryl.” Her mother sat up slowly and drew in several breaths.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Mom? Do you need me to get Dad?”
“No, no, I’m fine. He’s got enough to worry about right now.”
“What do you mean? Is something wrong?” Kenidee asked with a start, her mind instantly focusing on the word worry.
“No, sweetie,” her mom answered. “You know what an ostrich he is when it comes to emotional situations.”
They both had been known to tease him about how he ignored problems in hopes that they would go away.
“Bless his heart,” her mother said in her father’s defense. “All he does at work is put out fires. The last thing he wants to deal with when he comes home is more problems.”
“I hope I haven’t caused too many problems,” Kenidee said.
Her mother put her hand on her daughter’s cheek and smiled at her. “No, sweetie. You’ve been the best daughter a parent could ever wish for. Your father is just having a hard time letting his little girl go. I can’t say it’s easy for me, either.”
Feeling her throat [tighten] constrict, Kenidee put on a brave front for her mother’s sake.
“But,” her mother said, “I also am very proud that you want to serve a mission.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Kenidee’s attempt at a smile managed to be only a half-hearted grin.
“How are you doing?” her mother’s question was not just a conversation filler.
“Fine,” she answered. Then, like her father wanting to ignore a difficult situation, she changed the subject. “Sister Merkley cornered me.”
Her mother rolled her eyes. “Did she pester you about Gilbert again?”
“Good grief. Maybe if Gilbert moved out of his mother’s house and looked for his own dates he’d be married by now. Besides, you’ve got Brendan.”
Her parents loved Brendan. And why not? He was handsome and goal-oriented, he had a strong testimony, and he treated Kenidee like a princess.
He’d left on his mission to Taiwan in August, just three months earlier. They missed each other in the MTC by two weeks. It was probably better that way.
“It’s going to be such a wonderful experience for both of you to be serving missions at the same time. Something you’ll always remember.”
“I know. It’s amazing how everything has worked out so perfectly. I’ll never forget the day he got his mission call. He felt so bad he wouldn’t be here when I got mine.”
“This way, honey, you won’t have to wait too long for him to return, after you get home.”
“Yes, it works out better this way. And really, Mom, it doesn’t matter because I know it’s all working out the way it’s supposed. It’s all in the Lord’s hands.”
“Yes,” her mother said softly. “It certainly is. We just [have to have] need to exercise our faith that it will all work out.”
Kenidee detected sadness in her mother’s voice, a [sadness which] melancholy that matched the feelings in her own heart.
“It will go fast, though, won’t it, Mom.”
“Yes, honey. It will. And you’ll have a wonderful, life-changing experience that will prepare you for the rest of your life.” Her mother smiled at her and grasped one of Kenidee’s hands. “I’m so proud of you, sweetheart. And no matter what, I will always be with you in spirit.”
Kenidee looked at her mother with confusion. “What do you mean—you’ll always—?”
Just then her father burst into the room. “There you two are. What’s the big idea leaving me with all of those hungry people. We’re almost out of sandwiches, and those brownies are flying off the tray faster than we can replace them. I hope you have a stash somewhere or they’re going to start eating the furniture.”
Vanessa smiled warmly at her husband. “I’ve got it covered, dear.”
“What are you two doing anyway?” he asked, looking suspiciously at his wife and daughter.
“Girl talk, Dad,” Kenidee told him.
“Well, could you girls ‘talk’ later? Besides,” he gave his daughter a tap on the nose, “you’re the guest of honor. People are looking for you. I think Sister Merkley is looking for you.”
Kenidee and her mother looked at each other and laughed.
“What?” her dad questioned. “Does this have something to do with her son?”
“Yeah. She thinks I ought to skip my mission and go straight to the temple with him.”
“Did you tell her that you and Brendan are practically engaged?”
“She didn’t give me a chance.”
“Well, I think you should mention it to her. Brendan’s a sharp kid. I won’t mind at all if things work out with him,” her dad stated. “Don’t you agree, Vanessa? Vanessa?”
Kenidee and her father looked at her mom, who’s eyes had glossed over with tears.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” Kenidee asked with alarm.
Her mom shook her head and sniffed, brushing her emotions aside with her hand. “It’s nothing. I guess I’m just a little emotional today.”
Kenidee’s heart wrenched inside her chest. She felt the same way.
Kenidee’s father gave his wife a kiss on the forehead and placed another one on his daughter’s forehead. “You two come down when you can. I’ll go see if I can find more food.”
* * *
Kenidee was [just about worn out] exhausted. She appreciated the love and support from the ward, but all the attention was giving her a headache.
Sneaking away from the nucleus of family and friends, she headed for a circle of chairs in the shade by her mother’s rose garden where her brother was chatting with friends.
“Hey, Ken, how are you doing?” Matt stood and gave his sister a hug.
“I’m fine. I didn’t think this many people would show up today.”
“I hate to tell you this, little sis, but they’re not just here to see you. Most of them are here because of Mom’s cooking.”
Matt’s wife, Lindsay, smacked him on the arm. “That’s not true! They’re here to see you, Kenidee,” she corrected.
Kenidee loved her sister-in-law. She was glad her brother had the sense to marry someone as wonderful as Lindsay. They were very close, and Lindsay was like the sister she never had, although they looked nothing like sisters.
Lindsay was petite and pretty, with naturally curly blonde hair that hung in ringlets around her shoulders. Kenidee’s hair was dark brown and hung straight as a stick below her shoulders. Kenidee’s skin was much more olive than her sister-in-law’s, and she was a good five inches taller than Lindsay.
“Hey, Ken-dog,” Camden said to Kenidee. “You got your flip-flops and beach umbrella packed?”
“It’s a mission not a vacation, Cam,” Kenidee said with a smirk. “And how many times have I told you to quit calling me Ken-dog?”
“I don’t know, at least a thousand,” Cam answered.
Cam and her brother Matt had been best friends since grade school. Camden had been around the house so much while they were growing up [they] that Kenidee’s parents had actually put an extra bed in Matt’s room for all the nights he slept over. Consequently, he was comfortable with the family and his favorite pastime was teasing Kenidee.
“At least my nickname is better than being called Wart or Bugs.”
“Hey!” Matt protested. “I told you not to call me that anymore.”
Camden snickered, making Matt even more annoyed.
“Bugs?” Desiree said to her husband. “I didn’t know that was your nickname? How’d you get a name like that?”
“It’s not what you think,” Camden said, obviously regretting that he’d brought up the topic of nicknames.
Matt took it upon himself to explain. “When Camden was little, before he got braces, kids at school called him Bugs Bunny because his two front teeth looked like they were a couple of pieces of white Chiclets gum. Of course, once he got braces and his head grew big enough to fit his teeth, he became the magnificent specimen he is today.”
“Shut up, Wart!” Camden warned him playfully.
Matt chuckled and tried to dodge a punch in the arm from Camden.
“Of course, Matt’s name doesn’t need any explanation. You ever get rid of those warts, dude?”
“I said, shut up!” Matt went after his friend and they began wrestling on the grass.
For most people it would seem odd to see two grown men wrestling like kids, but to Kenidee it was just Matt and Camden, acting like their normal selves.
Kenidee shook her head. “You’d think they were still in sixth grade,” she said to Lindsay and Desiree. “Don’t be surprised if they follow this with a burping contest.”
“I won’t,” Desiree said as she looked with displeasure at her husband and his friend rolling around on the ground.
Lindsay and Kenidee exchanged glances. Kenidee had just been kidding about Matt and Cam. In all honesty, they were two of the best guys she knew. They were fun-loving, hard-working men and well loved by everyone who knew them.
Kenidee wondered what Desiree’s big gripe was? She’d never really gotten to know Camden’s wife. They’d been high school sweethearts—the perfect couple. He was a star athlete. on the basketball and baseball teams, and she’d been involved in cheerleading and gymnastics. Three months after he returned from his mission to the New York New York South Mission, he’d surprised everyone by marrying her—outside of the temple. She was a member but hadn’t really been active. They’d planned on going through the temple in a year.
A year later Amanda had been born, and now they were expecting another baby in five months. But they still hadn’t gone through the temple.
“How are you feeling?” Kenidee asked, deciding to just change the subject.
“Fat!” Desiree exclaimed. “I didn’t even have a chance to get back in shape after Amanda was born before this little surprise happened.” She pointed at her stomach. “I have to eat constantly or I get sick. I don’t have enough energy to make the beds or do dishes, let alone work out. Camden’s always gone to work, so he never helps out. So, yeah, I’m pretty much turning into a big fat cow. You just wait,” she said to both Kenidee and Lindsay. “Someday you’ll be like this and hate it.”
Kenidee wished she’d never asked.
“You look great,” Lindsay told her.
“Whatever!” Desiree exclaimed. “I hate even going out in public because of how I look. People who knew me from high school don’t even recognize me when they see me. I used to be thin and toned like you. Now look at me,” she whined.
Kenidee glanced about and saw her father on the deck refilling the punch bowl.
“Guess I’d better go help out. I hope you feel better soon,” Kenidee told her.
“Once I have this baby, I’ll feel a lot better.”
“Um, okay, then, take care,” Kenidee said, exchanging glances with Lindsay who’s expression was easily translated, Thanks a lot for leaving me here with her! Taking a few steps back, Kenidee turned and headed straight for her father, feeling sorry for Camden. She hoped Desiree’s mood was just from being pregnant and that she wasn’t always this unpleasant.
Kenidee’s mom walked out just then with a plate full of cookies.
It was from that vantage point that Kenidee noticed how thin and pale her mother looked. Knowing that her mother was a worrier, Kenidee hoped that her leaving on a mission wasn’t causing her mother extra stress and concern, but she suspected it did.
“Oh, there she is,” her father announced when he noticed Kenidee coming their way. “Honey, we were wondering where you went.”
“I was just seeing what Matt and Lindsay were doing.”
“It’s good to see Cam and his wife and their darling little Amanda,” Kenidee’s mom said. “Matt and Cam don’t get to spend much time together anymore.”
They all looked back to see Matt and Cam still on the ground.
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Kenidee said.
Her mom and dad laughed and sandwiched her in a hug.
Kenidee tried to memorize every detail of that moment with her father and mother. She needed enough memories to last eighteen months—and right now that seemed like an eternity.
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