Susan shifted herself on the concrete bench and glanced about her. She blinked in the bright afternoon sun and studied the students and parents milling around on the dark red brick commons. They were surrounded by stately buildings, trees with late summer leaves that were still green, white globed street lights and happy, excited voices.
The University of Michigan Diag.
Susie had talked of nothing else for days. How this was the place for all the action on campus. Susan stole a glance toward the girl seated at her side and suppressed a smile. She appeared to be rather nonchalant as she people watched but Susan could feel her niece's excitement almost vibrating from her slim body.
"Do you think Scott will be able to find someplace to get some ice cream?" the girl asked.
"Probably," Susan shrugged. "He has an inner radar for all things ice cream."
"Like Uncle Chuck did," Susie grinned.
"And Luka…." Susan added.
"Do you think it's a guy thing? Like something genetic?" Susie frowned a little and pushed her sunglasses up onto her head. Susan shrugged.
"If it is, I got a healthy dose of that gene," she chuckled wryly. "Too much, in fact." Susie grinned and studied her aunt. Susan took a deep breath.
"I guess this is really going to happen, isn't it?" she sighed. "This is it. This is the end for us."
"The end?" Susie's brow wrinkled worriedly and her voice rose into a whine. "You mean, I can't come…home….any more? Not even for Christmas? And what about the wedding party? I can't help plan it? Or come to it?" She dropped her face dramatically into her hands and began to sob.
"Stop that," Susan said dryly. "You know what I mean." Susie peeked up through her fingers and then grinned as she sat up straighter. Susan hesitated and then gathered the girl into a hug.
"You know what I mean," she said again sadly. "You won't be right down the hall any more. Or across the dinner table."
"I'm only a phone call away," Susie murmured as she returned the hug. "Or send a text message…."
"It's not the same," Susan sighed. "What am I going to do without you?" Susan felt the girl chuckle softly.
"I'm leaving you in pretty good hands," she said and loosened her hold on Susan. Susan reached up to wipe a tear from her eye and then glanced in the direction of Susie's tipped smile. They grinned at one another and watched as Scott, Molly, Casey and Cosmo crossed the sidewalk and headed toward them. Scott was holding an ice cream cone in one hand and Cosmo's hand with the other. They wore matching cargo shorts and new U of M wolverine tee shirts. Casey tripped along beside them in a similar shirt, happily licking her own cone and struggling to keep her fluffy curls away from her face. Molly, all graceful legs and arms in shorts and a U of M cami top, followed them with her ice cream in a dish.
"I really should say good bye," Susie said as she glanced at her watch. "Our dorm is sponsoring a freshman mixer and cookout for dinner and I promised Heather we could go and make some new friends."
"And meet some guys," Susan added drolly. Susie grinned brightly.
"That too!" she laughed and stood up. She bent to hug Susan again.
"I love you, Aunt Susan," she said softly and kissed her cheek. "Thank you for being there for me." The girl pulled away suddenly and turned. Susan watched her wait for someone on a bicycle to pass and then crossed the wide common area toward Scott…and the rest of her family. She wrapped Molly and Casey into a hug and then kissed their cheeks. Molly nodded happily as Susie said something to her. Susie turned to Scott and he smiled, wrapping her into a tight hug. Susan's eyes shifted to her son as he waited and licked away at his ice cream. There was a catch in her throat as she remembered the very first moment he had met Susie.
He had been three years old. She was twelve and had just arrived in Iowa after a very long drive from Ohio. Susie was dressed all in black with chains and colorfully dyed hair. Trying her best to be intimidating. He'd scratched his sunburned snub of a nose as he studied her and then pronounced, "I yike your hair. It's a rainbow!" They had bonded from that very first moment. Best friends and comrades. And now, five years – and a life time - later, he waited patiently.
Susan chuckled as Scott rescued the ice cream cone from Cosmo's hand as the little boy leaped into Susie's arms when she turned to him. She hugged him close as he wrapped his skinny legs around her waist. Tears slipped slowly down Susan's cheeks.
Best friends and comrades.
What would she ever do without her?
Susan smiled as Susie set Cosmo back on the ground and ruffled his hair – something he hated. Cosmo pulled away and reached from his ice cream cone again. Susie turned to her and waved one last time and then pulled her hair back into a pony tail. She adjusted her sun glasses and jogged off on the sidewalk in the direction of her dormitory. Susan wiped the tears from her eyes and stood up with a smile as Scott and his entourage headed toward her.
"Susie is going to skype with me every Saturday morning before I go to dance class," Molly grinned. "She promised."
"Is that so?" Susan sighed as she hugged the happy girl to her side.
"We should probably get on the road," Scott said as he handed his ice cream cone to her. "We have a long drive ahead of us and Luka and Abby need the trailer tomorrow for the big move." Susan nodded as she tasted his ice cream and then handed the cone back to him. She took Cosmo's hand in hers and slipped an arm around Scott's waist.
"Let's go home," she said as she lifted her face for a kiss. He smiled and obliged.
"Uh…Daddy? Susan?" Casey scoffed warningly. "Remember Susie's rule about kissing in public places?"
"Yeah, get a room, why don't you?" Cosmo sighed.
"Cosmo!" Susan was aghast as she pulled her face away from Scott and looked down at her son. He grinned up at her and shrugged. She laughed and then looked at Scott.
"Home it is," he grinned and took her hand. The five of them headed off in the direction of the parking lot where their car – and an empty trailer - waited to take them home.
I have loved the years I have spent with my Duplex family stories. Having them to bring out and 'play' with has made the world without 'ER' much easier to bear. But, as with all good things, it is time to put them to rest. Thank you for reading them. LLF