"Lordy, lordy Jessica Robinson is forty!" Madison
announced in a sing–song voice. "So, mom, how does
it feel to be turning the big four–o?"
"It's just a number, Madison," Jessica answered evenly
and gave her daughter a little flip of her hand for good
measure. Of course it was a big fat lie.
"Well, you certainly don't look it, that's for sure."
Madison plopped down on the sofa and patted her mother's
"Thank you sweetie." Jessica smiled but didn't look up
and continued to flip through the Modern Bride magazine
knowing that her eyes would give her away. Madison had an
uncanny way of reading people, which was one of the reasons
her daughter was an amazing writer. Her sweet and poignant
play Just One Thing was a smash hit at the Cricket Creek
local community theater last summer and had landed her a
job teaching creative writing at Cooper College, a small
but prestigious liberal arts school just outside of town.
"I just hope you've passed those good genes along to
me," Madison added making no mention of the father she
never knew or the grandparents who were mortified when
Jessica ended up pregnant at sixteen. But when she had
shown up on Aunt Myra's doorstep in Cricket Creek, Kentucky
her feisty, free–spirited aunt had welcomed her with
open arms. "I want to be a cougar just like you."
"You can't be a cougar if you're married." Jessica
flicked her daughter an amused glance. "Or at least you
"A MYLF, then."
"Madison!" Jessica shook her head so hard that her
golden blonde ponytail shook from side to side. "Wait,
what is that?"
"A mother you'd like to f–"
"Okay, I get it. I swear you've got more of your
outrageous Aunt Myra's genes than mine!"
"That's because her outrageous genes overpowered your
calm ones. Like little gene sword fights." She made
little swishing motions with her hand.
"You are truly crazy."
Madison lifted one shoulder and grinned. "I'm just
sayin'. But really, mom, I would never peg you as forty.
You truly don't look it but..." Madison swallowed and then
nibbled on the inside of her lip.
Jessica inhaled a deep breath and then had to
prompt, "But what?"
"You need to get out more often."
Jessica drew her eyebrows together. "I am out." She
sliced her hand through the air.
Madison tilted her head downward and rolled her eyes
up. "Mom, coming over to my condo isn't going out. I mean
going out... out."
Jessica tried not to squirm in her seat. "Madison,
Monday is the only day Wine and Diner is closed. You know
how demanding the restaurant business is. I like to kick
back and relax during my time off. Oh... did you see this
dress?" Jessica tapped the glossy page with her fingertip
in an attempt to change the subject. "I Love the simple
yet elegant design, don't you?" she continued. "You should
really say yes to a dress soon."
"Mom, Jason and I haven't even set a date yet."
"And you've been engaged for nearly nine months!"
Madison tilted her head and sighed. "With all of the
riverfront construction going on Jason barely has time to
breathe much less worry about a wedding. When things
settle down with the baseball stadium we'll set a date.
We're thinking next spring. But anyway, about going out..."
"Madison," Jessica warned in a low tone.
"Mom, it's your birthday!"
"Just another day as far as I'm concerned and I am so
grateful that you didn't throw me one of those cheesy
parties with droopy boob gag gifts."
"You made your thoughts on the subject crystal clear."
Madison leaned over and looked at the wedding dress. "But
what do you say we head over to Sully's and grab a bite to
eat and a martini? Celebrate just a little?" Madison held
her thumb and index finger an inch apart.
Jessica scrunched up her nose. "I don't think so." She
nonchalantly turned another page of the magazine but had to
swallow a stupid lump forming in her throat. Flipping
through the bride's magazine reminded her of the fact that
at forty her chances of a fairytale wedding were getting
slimmer and slimmer. She put out the vibe that she was
happy as pie with her single status and treasured her
independence but seeing her feisty Aunt Myra blissfully in
love and Madison happily engaged had Jessica suddenly
getting hit with bouts of loneness. It sure didn't help
that sexy as sin Ty McKenna, manager of the Cricket Creek
Cougars, ate at Wine and Diner several times a week. And
he didn't simply eat the food, but savored and appreciated
her culinary efforts, carefully choosing the perfect wine
to go with his meal. For Jessica there wasn't a better
turn on. Ty McKenna had awakened a yearning she had
thought was long gone but she knew him from his pro
baseball days when he'd frequent Chicago Blue Bistro where
she had been head chef. She had never seen the hot shot
athlete with the same woman twice so he could flirt until
he turned blue in the face but she wasn't about to let him
break her heart.
"Earth to mom? Are you getting hard of hearing in your
old age?" Madison teased and gave her arm a playful shove.
"What?" Jessica cupped her hand over her ear but then
mustered up a chuckle. "Sorry, I was thinking about the
summer menu," she fibbed.
"Well, give yourself a break! It's your birthday!"
"So you keep reminding me."
"Because you seem to keep forgetting, old lady.
Oh, she had not forgotten. "Madison, thanks so much
for the lovely necklace. Nicolina Diamante makes such
beautiful handmade jewelry. It was so sweet that you
remembered how much I adore her creations." Jessica put
the Modern Bride magazine on the glass coffee table and
dusted her hands together. "Now, I really should get home
and start working on the menu. Summer will be here before
you know it. I'm thinking about adding a mango salsa, cold
corn and black bean dip–"
"Come on, Mom! We should celebrate!" Madison pleaded
"Sweetie, I love my gift but it's no big deal."
Madison pressed her lips together which was a sure sign
she wasn't giving up. "Well then, let's go out and
celebrate my teaching position at Cooper. You promised to
go out and clink glasses together but we never did." Her
chin came up in challenge.
Damn... Madison had her there.
"Besides, I'm hungry and I don't have anything in the
fridge to fix."
"Imagine that." Jessica cocked one eyebrow. "You
really need to learn your way around the kitchen, Madison.
Jason is a small town boy used to home cooked meals."
"I can't believe my ultra independent modern mother just
said that to me," Madison muttered.
"The boy's gotta eat... and so do you."
Madison bounced around on the sofa cushion to face her
mother. "Okay, I'll make you a deal. Come with me to
Sully's and I'll find some time this week to come over to
the diner for some cooking lessons."
"Oh..." Madison really wasn't playing fair and she
pounced on her slight wavering.
"Come on, Mom. Jason is working at the baseball
stadium. I'm bored. Hungry!"
Jessica rolled her eyes. "Girl, you want some cheese
with that whine?" She kept her voice light but she truly
didn't want to celebrate. What she really wanted was to go
home, get into her pajamas and wallow with a bottle of
merlot. The fact that this milestone was hitting her hard
took her by surprise! But deep down she knew the reason