Eventually we reached the residential streets on the south side of Mansfield. Brad pulled the car up in front of a row of snug townhomes, each fronted with a large porch.
“Happy Birthday, Braddie Laddie!” called a short woman with permed blonde hair. She waved as she gracefully stood from a swing on the last porch. She looked elegant in a flowing purple satin tunic over tight black jeans. The hand she waved at us held a lit cigarette.
“Hey, Ma,” Brad called back.
“Why don’t you come over here and give your mother a hug?”
“In a minute, Ma. Let us get the car unpacked first,” Brad replied, then rolled his eyes at me.
“Don’t think I didn’t see that, young man,” Brad’s mom said as she minced toward the car on stiletto heels. “Giselle, you probably have your hands full keeping this one in line. Hi, I’m Vivian. Brad told us to expect you.”
She extended her hand. I set down my bag and gave Vivian a warm hug.
“Well, aren’t you sweet? I’m sorry Braddie here is so rude. I promise it’s not how I raised him.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Vivian. Brad has told me so much about you.”
“He has, huh? Now, why don’t I believe that?” She let out a honking laugh. “He was far too happy to be getting rid of us when we moved up here, isn’t that right, Braddie?” Vivian reached up to pat Brad’s back, then turned to me again. “Not that I begrudge my baby a little independence, you understand.”
Brad tensed at his mother’s touch and shot her a dirty look, but she didn’t seem to notice.
She cackled again in her gravelly voice. “Well, I’ll leave you two alone. Give you a chance to tell my son what you really think of me, eh?” She winked and squeezed my arm before turning to go.
When she reached the porch, Vivian turned and called back, “As soon as you two are settled, Walter and I want to take you to dinner at Sullivan’s in town. Braddie calls it the Blue Hair Restaurant. Isn’t that cute?”
“Braddie Laddie?” I whispered to Brad as soon as Vivian disappeared inside the blue door of the townhouse.
“That’s me!” He winked and hoisted up both our bags.
Saturday morning after breakfast, Vivian announced that she was taking us shopping.
“Braddie’s birhtday is coming up, and he told me you just had yours, Giselle. I like to spoil my kids. Let’s go to the outlet mall and get you both new outfits.”
Her generosity amazed me. “Wow, that is so kind. Thank you!”
Brad rolled his eyes. “Yeah, she deserves the mother of the freakin’ year award. Shopping is the last thing I wanted to be doing this weekend.”
Vivian looked hurt, but didn’t say anything.
“I’d really like to go. C’mon Brad, can we?”
He sighed as if resigning himself to a horrible fate. “Sure. Why not.”
At the outlet mall, Brad followed us around sullenly while Vivian and I looked for the perfect outfit for me. Vivian shook her head at all the girly tops and skirts I picked to try on.
“It’s cute, but not quite right for you,” she said. “Let’s keep looking.”
“How much longer is this going to take?” Brad asked as we left the fifteenth store.
Finally, Vivian asked if she could pick something for me. She held up an dark orange shirt dress with military details. “How about this one?”
I hesitated. “That’s not my usual style. I’ve never worn that color either.”
“Just try it. I think you’ll be surprised.”
When I came out of the dressing room, Brad whistled. “Whoa, Giselle. That’s hot!”
Vivian grabbed a chunky necklace and a straw bag from the accessories rack. “The perfect finishing touch.”
She guided me back to the mirror. I hardly recognized myself. Framed by the outfit, my curls suddenly looked exotic and bohemian instead of just a frizzy mess.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“Energy profiling,” Vivian explained. “Your face—”
“Mom, no one wants to hear about that New Age crap.”
“Maybe later,” I said. “Brad, guess it’s your turn now.”
“I’m starved. Let’s eat first.”
I wore the outfit out of the store. As we walked toward the food court, I pulled Brad aside.
“The way you talk to your mom really bothers me. Why are you so rude to her?” I asked.
“Just saying what I feel.”
“Yeah, but we’re supposed to honor our parents. And it is hard to be around the tension between you two. I think you should apologize to her.”
“Why not? I’ll wait here. You can catch up with her and have a moment alone.”
“Okay, okay.” He kissed me. “My little conscience.”