"You weren't using it."
"Yes, I was. Besides it's mine. You don't need to touch it."
"I won't hurt it."
"Jacqueline, leave your brother's things alone," Alma said, a tired sigh in her voice. It wasn't even 9:00 yet and it was already starting. She had started counting down the days until school started weeks ago and was thankful that summer vacation was reaching its end. "I need you to help me set the table. And Joseph, why don't you go upstairs and wake up your brother? Tell him breakfast is ready, please."
"Yes, I know," Alma replied. Judith had mentioned it everyday this week.
"Are we going to be able to go on Monday morning, like you said we might?"
"We'll try to."
"I hope we can because I have to get there early so I can make sure I get the classes I want before they're all filled up. I'm hoping Maura and I can get at least one class together, which might be hard since she'll be a sophomore and I'll be a freshman, but I really, really want to get into the first semester art class because I have to take that before I can take any other art classes. I wonder if that's the one Mr. Gregory teaches. Maura says I should try to get into his class. All the girls think he's really cute."
Alma looked up suddenly and said in a firm voice, "You are too young to think of your teachers as cute."
"It wasn't me that said it," Judith protested. "Besides he's a younger teacher."
"Even so," Alma said as she transfered the eggs from the pan to the plate with the already cooked sausage and took it over to the table.
Alma's husband, Edward, looked up from his morning paper as she walked past. "Alma, isn't this your old roommate?"
"Roommate? What roommate?" Alma asked as she continued serving breakfast.
"Don't you remember when we were first married, you were renting a room from another teacher you worked with? Wasn't her name Bernice? Is this her?"
Alma leaned over her husband's shoulder and looked at the item in paper he pointed out to her. The picture in the obituary was an old one, the solemn face, long forgotten, looked exactly as it did all those years ago.
"Yes, that is her," Alma said as she finished setting the table and sat down herself.
"I haven't thought of her in years," Alma said thoughtfully.
"The funeral is today. Do you think you'll go?"
"It's been sixteen, almost seventeen years since I've seen her last and we weren't on the best terms then..." Alma said thoughtfully, her mind going back to a time before she was married with four kids. It seemed so long ago and her life so different then. She couldn't help wondering what Bernice's life had been like since they'd last seen each other. "I think I will go."
~ - ~ - ~ - ~ - ~Alma walked alone into the quiet funeral home. There were only a few others gathered, less than a dozen people total. She recognized a few of them from her teaching days, fellow teachers from the elementary school where she and Bernice had met all those years ago.
The service was simple and brief and afterwards, one of the teachers she had recognized approached her.
"It's Alma Wilton, but you might have known me by my maiden name, May."
"Oh yes. I'm Jeannie Danaher."
"It's nice to see you again. I recognized you too, but it's been a long time."
"It has. How long ago was it?"
"Time flies by, doesn't it?"
"Yes it does . . . Are you still teaching?"
"Yes, I'm still at it, but I'm at the middle school level now."
"I always thought I'd go back to teaching, but it never happened."
"I got too busy with my family, taking care of my children," Alma replied
"When did Bernice retire?"
"I don't know, it was quite awhile ago."
"I heard she mostly kept to herself, didn't go out much. I read in the obituary that she ended up leaving everything to her cats. The poor dear didn't really have anyone else. It's kind of sad really."
When she was in her early 30s things started to change quickly. Amanda got married and offered to stay home with Mother, so Alma could have a chance to go back to teaching. Shortly after that, their mother died, they had to move out of their house, and Alma started renting a room from Bernice.
After living with Bernice for awhile she started to have a change of heart. She didn't want to end up alone, like Bernice, with no family, few friends, and a house full of cats her main source of companionship. The next time Edward approached her, she accepted him and they were soon married.
They weren't married long before they were pregnant with their first child, Jeremy. Since Alma was already in her mid 30s and Edward was more than a decade older than her, they decided not to postpone having children. Alma had planned on going back to work after Jeremy was born, but she ended up getting pregnant with Judith instead, who was followed a few years later by Joseph and Jacqueline. After becoming a mother to twice as many children as she'd planned on having, Alma's hope of going back to teaching had become a distant memory, forgotten until today.
When she first got married, Bernice had told her it would be this way, that she would start having kids and not return to teaching. Alma hadn't believed her at the time. Her goal had always had been to return to work, but Bernice had been right. Being the mother of four and the wife of a busy doctor and an active member of the community had left her too busy to think about resuming her career. Until today. Now she was starting to have regrets.
"I need someone to help me with these groceries," Alma announced as she walked up the front walk from the garage to the house.
"Sorry, I can't right now, Mom," Jeremy said, holding up a pair of grease covered hands. "I'd have to clean up first."
"Judith, can you get the other bags out of the car? Joseph and Jacqueline, you can help too."
Judith sighed as she set down her sketchbook and went to help her mother.
"But, Mom, Maura's on her way over. She's going to be here any second."
"You can still help. Maura will wait for you."
"Is it ok if we go to the park for awhile?"
"If Judith goes to the park, can I go too?" Jacqueline spoke up eagerly.
"Yes, to both of you, if you help me with the groceries first."
Judith looked at her younger sister and frowned. She let out a heavy sigh, but restrained herself from protesting any further. She knew it would do no good for her to complain. Her mother would only insist that she let Jackie come along with her.
"Hello, dear," Edward greeted his wife with a peck on the cheek. "How was the funeral?"
"Very small and simple. Bernice didn't have many friends or family to speak of."
"Then it's good that you went. I'm sure the few loved ones that she did have were comforted to see another face there to remember her, even if you weren't close."
"Yes, I suppose so," Alma replied. "Remembering Bernice has started me thinking. I never did go back to teaching like I'd always planned."
"There was never time," Edward said. "Raising four children and running a household is a fulltime job in itself. I wouldn't expect you to work outside of the home as well."
"You're thinking about teaching again?"
"Yes, I am."
"But, Alma, it's been so long."
"I know, but the kids are all in school all day. They're getting old enough to take care of themselves more."
"Are you sure that's a good idea, now? You know I've been planning on stepping down from my position at the hospital in a couple of years. I thought we were planning for retirement together, not a new career."
"What would I be retiring from? I'll still have the household to run, the children to take care of. If I went back to work, that wouldn't change your plans to retire from the hospital. If I don't think about doing this now, then I never will."
"Well," Edward sighed. "You know I would never stand in the way of something you wanted to do. But there's no rush to make a decision, right? Let's think about it for a few days. You can make up your mind about it, if you haven't already and I can get myself used to the idea."