Vic stared at the package on her lap, almost horrified at the contents, aware that all eyes were watching for her reaction. Finally, she peeled the rest of the paper and tissue away and held the item up for everyone in the circle to view. What had Ellie been thinking? Was she really expected to wear this bit of pink and lace around the house…in front of Charles, even? She was almost embarrassed just to have it in her hands.
“Thanks, Ellie. I really appreciate you thinking of my on my birthday.” Even to Vic’s ears, the words fell a little flat. She laid the apron back into the gift box and reached for the next package. This one contained a full set of bathroom towels in a delicate shade of lavendar…with lace and flowers along the edge. A soft loofah and a bottle of bubble bath were tucked in with the towels.
Again, Vic was at a loss. Was she expected to use these bits of fluff or just let them sit around and collect dust? “Wow, Janie. You really put a lot of thought into this.”
The next item was from Charles. Surely his gift would be usable, practical. She had circled a large dutch oven in the Cabela’s catalog, and the vacuum had been squealing for months now. He handed her a card, and she hoped for a gift card or note explaining that her new dutchie and Hoover were hiding in the garage. Instead, the card held a gift certificate. For two days spent at the local spa. She almost laughed, thinking it a joke, and then saw the ernest, hopeful look on Charles’ face. Thirty-two years of marriage, and somehow he didn’t know her at all! “Charles…I don’t even know what to say. Thank you.”
She gathered up the wrappings and gifts, stowed them on the counter, and moved to the birthday cake. She’d baked it herself: two layers of white cake frosted with caramel frosting. She had considered it pretty fancy–until she compared it to this stack of frilly gifts. What had they all been thinking?
Later, Vic stood in front of the sink, brushing her teeth and scrubbing her face. She stared into the mirror, evaluating the curves and planes that made up her face. Clear green eyes gazed back, framed by dark brows and darker hair. There were laugh lines at the corners of her eyes and the suggestion of more to come near her mouth. And there was nothing fancy about her at all. Even the plain t-shirt and pants she wore to bed spoke more to comfort than style. It ran through her mind again: What had they all been thinking?
Vic was christened Victoriana Elaine, just about the most feminine name a new mother could come up with for her first daughter. Unfortunately, Vic’s twin brother came stillborn and Vic’s mother followed him to the quiet plot on the hill behind the church just a few days later. To Vic’s way of thinking, all her mother ever gave her was an ill-fitting name and a fear of childbirth.
When she was four, Victoriana and her father moved in with her grandfather, and then an uncle found himself crashing on the sofa. Vic’s name was shortened to Toria, then Torie. By high school she had forgone the second half of her name and started to go by Vic. She led her basketball team to championship and gave serious consideration to trying out for the football team. She hung with the guys and often considered herself to be one of them.
Vic met Charles in college, and the thing she loved most about him was that he never expected her to be something she didn’t want to be. They went to sporting events together, watched action movies and slugged down beers. He was the first one to kiss her, and she was surprised at the very womanly response of her body.
She wore a pantsuit to their wedding: elegant white lines and just a bit of sheen. She carried a single calla lily and he wore one in his boutinaire. A handful of people mistook her young stepmother in white lace for the bride.
Despite her fear of childbirth, Vic gave birth to two sons. She raised them to be manly men but also taught them the gentleness that a woman seeks. She was comfortable in her home with her men, and she rarely wondered about the raising of girls, much less wished for it.
And then her men got married.
Vic had three men: her husband Charles, and two strapping sons: Steven and Michael. Both married lovely (if girlish) girls and seemed deeply blissful. Then Steven was called up for deployment in the current Conflict and he left Janie in the care of his parents. Vic loved Janie, but while Vic had grown up playing “Davy Crockett” in the woods, Janie must have spent the greater portion of her childhood wearing tiaras and plastic heels.
The guest room quickly went from something Marilla might have decorated in Green Gables to seeming to have the contents of two or three Victorian mansions fitted into it. Little bits of ribbon and lace appeared on coffee tables (and in the laundry, but that was another story altogether); the fridge was suddenly bedecked with flower and butterfly magnets holding photo after photo of Steven.
But Vic managed. Occasionally she sighed and returned a particularly feminine item to Janie’s quarters, but she never complained. She simply went to her own simple suite and closed the door for a while, basking in the creams and sea-blues that refreshed her soul.
Then Michael and Ellie bought the house next door.
Vic was thrilled. Of course, Ellie soon had the flower gardens blooming with all manner of flora, and Michael happily dug up and raised new beds on the weekends. There were wrought iron shepherd’s hooks and bird houses and feeders and baths all over the yard, and Vic’s gazing ball on pedestal began to look forlorn in the small bed by the steps.
Yes, Vic loved her girls. She often watched them when they were unaware, trying to understand them, to see what she was missing–if anything. She was happy as she was, and they were happy as they were.
So when her birthday celebration rolled around, she couldn’t understand what had happened. Did they want her to change? Did even Charles wish she was the sort of person who needed to be pampered and polished?