||In no way do I claim this story as my own. It belongs to my friend Maryann and she allowed me to put it up here for more feedback on it. From this point forward everything written is copied and pasted.
I hope everyone who reads it takes a minute to post a comment..good or bad!
She was sitting on the beach; it was still cool tonight, as it often is in May on the Cape. The day had been very warm, the weatherman said it was around 10 degrees higher than usual for this early in the season, but now that the sun was going down the temperature was dropping quickly. The sun was setting over the ocean, its purple/pink glow blanketing the sea. The water was relatively calm, waves not so much crashing into the shore... more like caressing.
It was chilly, her faded jeans rolled to just above her ankles, a giant sweatshirt shielding her from the breeze. Had she been painting the scene she would have needed such a wide array of colors... various shades of blues, pinks and purples for the sea and sky, a washed out blue for the denim of her jeans, a faded shade of coral for her sweatshirt, and a mix of tans and whites to portray the many hues of the beach.
She wasn't painting today though, matter of fact, she was not even aware of the beauty that surrounded her. No, she was not aware of anything other than the thoughts swirling inside her head. So many things to try and make sense of, too many, and feeling incapable of doing so.
She always came to the beach to think. This was her favorite time of day, the tourists had packed up their sand shovels and snorkel masks and gone home for the night. (Silly tourists, didn't they know the water was too cold for snorkeling this time of year?) The locals were cooking on the barbeque or inside their homes preparing for the next work day, so used to the gorgeous Cape Cod sunsets that they almost take them for granted and forget to notice.
Yes, it was quiet on the beach at this time in the evening. Quiet, breezy, and when she sat there thinking like she was tonight, she felt as though it was her own private island. Normally this was her calming place, her 'make sense of it all' place, the one spot she could go to even on her worst days and this place would fill her with the peace she sought and give her the energy to face another day. Tonight was not a 'normal' night. She had a lot of thinking to do, so many thoughts running through her head, all begging to be heard, each thought significant and needing her attention... yet all of them coming so rapid fire that she could not focus on any one thought for very long before another would invade and scream louder than the one before.
No, normally this was her calming place... but not tonight, tonight was not normal. Tonight was either the start of something wonderful, or the beginning of many sleepless nights. Either way one thing was for certain, the prospect that lay before her was both terrifying and exciting, and if she decided to go through with it, it could also prove to be the beginning of a process that may actually begin her on the road to healing some very old wounds. If done incorrectly, it could also open a few that had long since crusted over. Could she really do this? Who would want to read her story anyway? Why would anyone care what had happened to her... she was just a mom, trying to raise her kids as best she could. Why would anyone think that was interesting? She started to chuckle as she recalled how sincere Craig looked as he tried persuading her over lunch that indeed her story was interesting and that many people would pay money to read it. He was so intent on convincing her that he didn't notice when he dipped his sleeve in his salad dressing, he didn't notice that everyone seated near them was hearing every word as he excitedly tried to explain that what she thought of as 'boring and no big deal' would be fascinating and inspiring to other single moms. He used words like 'best seller' and 'movie deal' and a bunch of other words that continued to spiral around her head now. It made no sense to her, yet the thought intrigued her. Yes, it intrigued her, and it also sent her packing for the beach with a thermos in one hand and clean pad of paper with her favorite pen in the other. As she did with most major decisions in life, she sat down and did her 'pros and cons' list. Good thing she picked up extra ink at the stationary store today... something told her there was going to be a lot of ink flowing out of that pen tonight, and she better get started or she was going to run out of sunlight!!
She was scribbling yet another item on her pro/con list when she heard a familiar voice calling her name. As she scanned the distance looking for the source calling her name she realized how much the light had faded since she arrived at the beach and began the process of making this list. Everything that was pink and glowing earlier had faded in the dim light. As she was coming to this realization her eyes landed on her friend Elizabeth, one of her dearest friends from college, the one calling her name.
They never planned to end up living in the same place, matter of fact there was a lot of living that had taken place between their last day of college and this crisp evening on the beach in Cape Cod. Their lives had taken them in different directions; there had been periods where they spoke daily and spaces in between where they didn’t speak for months. Regardless of whether they were on speaking terms or not, one thing was certain. One emergency call from either one of them and the other would be at their side, no questions asked. Their friendship was like any other relationship that stands the test of time… peppered with peaks, dips and the occasional pothole, but still the most direct route to any important destination in their lives.
A smile crept across her face as she picked up her pad and pen and headed down the beach towards Elizabeth’s warm home. Elizabeth stood on her back deck holding two steaming mugs of tea and waited patiently for her friend to make her way towards her.
Handing her the mug she merely smiled and said, “Okay, Mar are you going to tell me what’s got you making lists under the moonlight, or should I just quietly sip my tea and wait for you to wrap your brain around it first?” Leave it to Elizabeth to get right to the point. Nobody knew Mar better than Elizabeth.
“Well, I would start by saying, you’d never believe it, but the truth of it is, of course you would”, at this Elizabeth just smiled, “Remember back when I worked for the publishing company and I had that friend Craig?”
“The one you dated, hot guy, gorgeous blue eyes, smile to die for?... Nope, not at all”, they both laughed.
“Yes, that’s the one, and I wouldn’t say we dated, well, okay, maybe we did, but it was brief. Anyway, we had lunch today at that little place off Route 28 in Falmouth. He’s still working for the publishing company, but he has been promoted a few times since our days in the mail room, these days he is a Senior Manager in their New Development department. Something to do with finding new talent? Anyway, we had a very interesting lunch today.” She stopped then to take a long sip of her tea, managing to get lost again in her own thoughts.
Elizabeth watched her old friend sip her tea. She could see so many thoughts and emotions flash across her friend’s face. It was obvious that her friend was caught up in her own chaotic thought pattern. If she wasn’t so curious as to what had Mar preoccupied she would have laughed at how clearly Mar’s emotions played across her face, the term ‘wearing her heart on her sleeve’ came to mind, she would make a horrible poker player!
“Okay, so are you going to focus and tell me about this luncheon or do I need to sit here and throw wood chips at you until you come back from being lost in thought?”
“I am sorry! Wow, you’re right, of course you’re right… I am lost in thought. Okay, here goes… he wants me to write a book. Not just any book, he wants me to write my story. He wants me to write about being a single mom, he wants me to write about what took me from a small town in Connecticut to Utah and finally to this place in time. Isn’t that nuts? Who would want to read about MY life? What’s there to write? It’s crazy!”
“MAR!!!! That’s awesome! He’s right, it’s genius. How many times have I told you that you should write this stuff down? It’s brilliant! Who would want to read it? Just about every woman I’ve ever known! Me, I would read it. I was there for most of it and would love to read it anyway! Mar your life has never been dull, you can’t argue that! When do you start? Where do you start? What do the kids think? How does Marge feel about it? What am I saying, she’d be thrilled that her daughter finally will get the recognition she deserves. Who would play me in the movie? Ahhhhhhh so many questions, so many thoughts, talk to me!!!"
Mar just laughed, leave it to Elizabeth to go from zero to ninety in under ten seconds! “Whoa, I haven’t even wrapped my brain around this yet. The kids don’t know yet. Victoria is visiting my mom in Wareham tonight and Stephen is out on Hyannis with his friends. It’s just as well, I really need to make my list and sort my thoughts before I can present it to them and ask their opinion. As for Marge, thankfully she is soaking up every moment with Victoria tonight and neither one of them will even give me a thought, so I’m off that hook for now. Stephen is sleeping at his friend’s parent’s cottage tonight as well, so it’s me, my list, my thoughts and my best friend tonight.
“Okay, what can I do, how can I help. Do you have enough paper? I’ve seen these lists enough in the past to know that one notebook might not be enough”.
“Yes, I have plenty of paper, smart ass. I also have plenty of ink, since I know that’s your next question. But seriously, I fail to see why Craig would want me… ME… to write a book? A poem, maybe, a greeting card, perhaps, letter of recommendation, okay… but a book?”
“Mar, think about what you have survived the last twenty years or so. You have faced things that would bring some women to their knees yet you just keep plugging along. You really don’t realize what an inspiration you are to the rest of us. Oh, and to be perfectly clear, we all hate you for it. Just thought you should know.”
“You are as crazy as Craig, not as cute, but as crazy just the same.”
“It’s obvious you’re not going to listen to reason, so let’s just stick to the facts. Bring your list over here and let’s just see how crazy I am. Christopher is out with his buddies tonight, so it’s just us. Hmmm, Margaritas? Martinis? Nope, serious business calls for tea… let me put the kettle back on and then we can get down to work.”
This was why Elizabeth was, is, and always will be her ‘go to’ girl. Elizabeth had the amazing knack of cutting right to the heart of the matter and helping Mar find her correct path in life. Sometimes life got in the way and forced her to veer off course, but whenever that happened Elizabeth was always there with a pot of tea, a stiff drink, or just a silent hug…whatever was needed to get Mar through that detour and back on track.
Christopher walked in a little past 2am from his night playing cards with the boys. Trying to be as quiet as possible he stopped in the mud room to strip off his pants and shirt, leaving him in his boxers and tee shirt. Elizabeth hated the smell of cigar smoke but didn't mind if he had a few with the boys on poker night. Since she was so considerate of him he made sure she wasn't forced to smell it on his clothes. That's how their marriage was, two partners who constantly looked out for each other. Total devotion, neither had ever strayed, nor would they even consider doing so, it was not an option.
He swung by the kitchen to make sure the coffee pot was set up for the morning. They were planning on heading to Rhodes Island in the morning to celebrate their nephew's third birthday. The motorized jeep they had bought him was already in the back of the truck, ready to be delivered. He chuckled as he imagined little Tommy's face when he saw the camouflage jeep with the big yellow bow on it.
Once the coffee was all set up Chris walked down the hall and crossed through the den to get to the guest bathroom to take a quick shower before going to bed. He chose the guest bathroom instead of the master bath so that he wouldn't wake Liz up.
Chris realized two things in the same instant. The first thing he noticed was that there was a roaring fire going in the fireplace, and at that same moment he realized that he was not alone in the room. "Nice Spongebob boxers Christopher", this was from Mar and was followed with "Ahhh, that's my man" from Liz. What else could a man do in this case? Seeing no other option, he chose to strike a model's pose, do a pirouette and bow to the ladies, this sent them reeling with laughter.
"I should have known you were here Mar, saw that old familiar beat up peach sweatshirt of yours slung over the kitchen chair when I walked in. At first glance I thought it was one of the nasty old boat rags from down at the pier, but then I realized it was worse, it was your ratty old sweatshirt that my wife should have burned back in your college days!"
"First of all, it's NOT peach... it's coral, and it's not ratty or beat up or any of the other horrible things you said about it. It's my comfort sweatshirt, it's what I put on when I have a lot of thinking to do, and besides, it's warm," Mar said, sounding pathetic even to her own ears.
"HA, warm? Mar, that thing has so many holes in it that it might as well be crocheted. Chris is right; I should have burned that thing when I had the chance. What's it going to take to get you to get rid of that thing, or at the very least, get you to stop wearing it in our presence?"
Her words sounded lame to her own ears as she replied, "I don't know... I guess I will get rid of it when I find that I no longer need it. I'm not lucky like you guys, I haven't found my soul mate, my sounding board, my "Person" to listen to me and tell me when I am being crazy or when I'm on the right track." Seeing Liz's downcast eyes she quickly added, "Liz, I have YOU, but it's not quite the same and you know it."
"No, I do understand. I really thought James was the right one for you, I still say he's eventually going to wake up and realize that he is missing you and made a terrible mistake. I want you to have what Chris and I have, hell, you deserve it more than anyone that I know." Liz wasn't even aware that she was absently playing with Christopher's hand as she said this. He loved when she did that, it was as if her hands ran on auto pilot when he was near.
"Thanks Liz, thanks for understanding. As for James... who knows! I hope you're right, I hope he's home realizing that the void he feels is because he misses me, but I also know I can't make him feel that way. It's fine, I've resigned myself to the fact that I am just going to grow old and be a crazy cat lady. No offense to Lady Houston!"
Liz cracked up, "Lady Houston is not offended, are you sweetie", she said looking over at her little yellow barn kitten who was currently curled up into a ball in front of the fire place. She merely looked over at them and yawned in their general direction. "Lady Houston is not the type of cat crazy old cat ladies like anyway, she is far more sophisticated than that!" At that they all giggled.
Chris took this as his cue to leave the ladies. "Ladies, I am going to head to bed. Mar, I'd be happy to throw another sweatshirt on the fire for you before I go? Er, I mean log...." He ducked just in time as Mar sent a pillow flying barely missing his head.
It was nearly 3:30 am by the time Mar headed back home. As she walked in the glow of the near full moon, she noted that it must have rained while she was with Liz. The sand was wet, her footprints the only marks in the otherwise smooth packed earth. It felt cool and moist under her feet. Most people stayed away from the beach when the sand was wet, not Mar, for her it was walking therapy. Entirely different in feel from walking on the hot summer sand, yet it had exactly the same emotionally therapeutic benefits as walking on the sun baked sand mid day. Everything about this beach brought her calm, understanding, and yes, that ‘ah’ feeling that comes from being where you belong.
Her cottage was dark except for the glow from the sand dollar nightlight her son Stephen had bought her many years ago for Mother’s day. Truth be told he still didn’t like the dark, so he had bought her several nightlights through the years. The ‘light’ portion may have been for him, but the sand dollar motif was for his mother, something Mar always collected, even as a kid. It’s amazing how the least expensive gifts are worth the most when given by children with thought and love.
She wound her way to her bed and slipped out of her clothes and between the sheets. The sheets felt cool to the touch with that perpetual dampness associated with most things on the Cape. Just as she was settling in the rain started again. A smile crept across her face as the rain pinged off the roof to the most amazing and peaceful rhythm, it invoked memories of her mother and father sitting together on the swing on the porch watching the storm dance on the ocean. Every sight, every smell, every sound here had memories attached.
Finally exhausted, and with the smile still in place, Mar drifted off to sleep. She slept a dreamless sleep, which was a relief after spending the evening with so many thoughts racing in her head. She had Liz to thank for that excellent night’s sleep, for Liz, as always, was her sounding board, her organizer of thoughts. Liz helped her make sense in a world that often appeared to have no rhyme or reason.
When she woke in the morning the fog was lingering as she looked out the kitchen window. Mr. Dawson was out clamming wearing his bright yellow fisherman rain jacket, the forecast must be calling for rain today. Mr. Dawson had lived on the cove forever and was something of a legend in the neighborhood. If you looked out your window in the morning and Mr. Dawson was wearing his slicker you knew not to leave the house without an umbrella. If his outfit of the day was running shorts, a tee shirt and baseball cap, you knew to apply the sunscreen before even going to the car. The word on the street was that Mr. Dawson never actually “ran” in those running shorts, but that didn’t negate his accuracy in the weather department.
Keeping that yellow slicker in mind Mar dressed in tan linen slacks and a tailored blue pin stripe oxford for her meeting with Craig today. Examining her reflection she decided it was the perfect mix of business and Cape casual. She wore her hair in simple curls today, not wanting to appear too made up or as if she had put too much thought or effort into this meeting. She was ready to face him today, but wasn’t quite sure of the words she would use.
They were meeting at the same restaurant as yesterday, but today they wouldn’t be sitting on the patio but would opt for a warmer, dryer table indoors.
Mar took her time on the drive, not wanting to get there first, after all, he was the one insisting on meeting, he could wait for her. (This also afforded her a few extra minutes to put her thoughts in order before having to speak the words out loud to Craig, not knowing how he would take her announcement.)
Craig saw her pull into the parking lot and gave the waitress the previously agreed upon signal so she would know to bring the hot cup of tea over just prior to Mar arriving at the table. It was all in the details he told himself. To win the big fish you have to use the right bait, and in his eyes, Mariella Margaret Chase was a big fish. He wanted her story, he wanted her face on the back sleeve of books everywhere, he wanted her charming personality on talk shows being interviewed, he wanted movie producers angling for the rights to her story. Yes, Mariella Margaret was indeed, a big catch and not just in the business sense either. He could see a future there; together they could be a force to be reckoned with. That is, if he hadn’t messed things up so badly a few years before.
Mar arrived at the table just then and they exchanged kisses on both cheeks just as the waitress arrived with her hot cup of tea. “Thank you Craig, I don’t know how you do that, but thank you.”.
“Oh, that? It’s nothing, just a hot cup of tea. I know you like it hot, and our waitress knows that I am good for a sizable tip if she keeps us happy while we’re here. It’s a great partnership, don’t you think?”
Once they had placed their order Craig got right down to business. “Well, Mariella, did you think about what we discussed yesterday?”
“You know I have”.
“Well, are you going to make me pull it out of you, or are you going to make me the happiest man on the earth”.
“Craig, you won’t be the happiest man on the earth until you have the market on the top ten best sellers list, a trophy wife on your arm and two perfect little blonde kids running around in your yard flying kites!”
“Hahaha, very funny. You know I’m saving myself for you”.
“Yeah right! Mr. Playboy waits for no one!”
“Seriously Mar, have you made a decision? Will you write for me?”
“It’s not that easy Craig, you’re asking me to bare my soul, you’re asking me to reveal things to strangers that I’m not even sure I’ve wrapped my own brain around just yet.”
“Come on Mar, we’ve covered all of this… what’s your real hold up?”
She busied herself with her tea, adding the sugar as if it were a science formula that needed careful attention. Finally she looked up, concern etched in her features, “the kids”.
Craig thought before he spoke, something that didn’t come natural to him. He was a shoot from the hip kind of guy, but he knew Mar, he knew that every decision, every choice was made with her kids in mind. If he wanted Mariella to sign the bottom line he had to go very carefully from here.
“Your kids love you and would support you finally getting the recognition you deserve for your writing.”
“I get that recognition already. Wallama has done very well.”
“Mar, it’s a children’s book. Yes, you’ve done wonderfully in that market, but I’m talking world exposure here, not just Mom & Pop book stores. Borders, Walden Books, B.Dalton… all the big stores, all with YOUR book prominently displayed as you walk in the door.”
Mar chuckled, “Aren’t you getting a bit ahead of yourself? I haven’t even agreed to write a book yet and you’ve already got it printed, bound and successfully being sold at all the large national book stores?”
The waitress arrived with their salads. Craig had ordered for them both. She always got the same salad with chicken, cranberries, cheese and the raspberry vinaigrette dressing which made ordering for her a breeze.
Craig took a slow breath, “I believe in you, I believe in your story and I know it would be as successful as I am telling you, probably even more so.”
“I just don’t know. I know you wanted a final decision today, but I really do need to talk to my kids. I need to bounce this off of them. It’s not just me and my world you’re asking me to expose, it’s theirs as well. They’re kids Craig, this could be hard for them.”
“Mar, take your time, talk to your kids. Those kids adore you, they are proud of who you are, what you do and how you got to this point in your life. I have every faith that they’ll agree with me on this one. Once they do, and you’re ready to move forward we can discuss specifics.”
“Craig, I’m not so sure you’re right on this one, Victoria is pretty sensitive, she may not be comfortable with all that goes with having the world know the private details of your life. I mean, it’s one thing to have the world know that you were a cute baby who sucked her thumb until she was five, but really, it’s entirely another deal for them to know that your first boyfriend was arrested at age 14 for stealing a girly magazine from the local pharmacy.”
“THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT”… “the way you word things, the way you describe her in such a way that every mother reading it would feel horrible for her, every teenager reading it would think ‘oh, that poor girl, how humiliating’… your way with words is why you need to do this, you need to write this book Mariella, you need to.”
“One more week, give me one week to talk to the kids, really feel them out on it. I also need time to process this and decide if this is something that I’m comfortable putting myself through. Some of the things in my past are nicely covered in dust and are perfectly happy collecting cobwebs in the corner of my mind. To dust them off and bring them back into play could be painful and dangerous.”
“I can agree to the one week, but no more than that. My boss is hot about this deal. He’s already salivating at the thought of sending you out to parties in the Hamptons before the end of summer to drum up interest.”
“Whoa… A: The Hamptons? I am an author not a party goer. No thanks, I prefer my quiet beach in my quiet little cove with my quiet little friends and family. B: What do you mean he’s salivating, I’m sure I’m nothing more than ‘Craig’s little project’ to him, no name attached, no details. C: The Hamtpons? I think not.”
Craig laughed… “Okay, dial it back, I’ll give you your one week. I won’t call you, or email you or anything else… take your time to really finalize your decision because once we start there’s no backing out.”
“Thank you, Craig. Why don’t we meet here next week at the same time.”
“That’s fine. Oh, and Mar… I have been meaning to try that new Italian place on Nantucket for a while now, what do you say we get all dressed up and check it out?” He practically held his breath waiting for her response.
“Craig Michael, are you asking me on a date?”
He loved the way her eyes danced when she laughed. “Er, uh, well, would that be so bad? As I recall we dated a while back and things seemed to be highly enjoyable for both of us.”
“Um, yes, it was enjoyable. That is, until I found you with the girl from accounting, then, well, not so enjoyable for me.”
“Ugh, I was young and stupid. I promise you, I’ve mended my ways. I’m a one woman man now.”
At that Mariella just laughed. “How about if we wait and see what my final decision is on the book deal and then if you still want to try that place we’ll talk about it.”
His smile slipped just a bit, most people wouldn’t have even noticed, but Mariella did, and for whatever reason it touched her. She found this confusing as she had long since written Craig off as a Casanova. Rather than confuse the issue further she decided to shelf that thought for now, she could always go back and ponder that when there weren’t so many other thoughts fighting for attention in her mind.
Craig settled their tab, left the waitress the large tip she deserved and walked Mar to the car. He still appeared deep in thought as he kissed her cheek and said, “Until next week.”
“Be safe” was all that Mar said as she climbed in her car. Her hand absently reached for the radio and one of her favorite songs played, she never heard a note of it, completely lost in her thoughts.
The slamming screen door was all it took to pull Mar out of her lazy Sunday haze. Folding the last towel and placing it on top of the basket she counted to ten and quickly braced herself for the pouncing hug that was coming her way in 5-4-3-2-
“Mommmmmm!”, Victoria arrived just on cue. Never one to quietly slink into a room, no, Victoria always entered a room the same way she greeted each day, with a smile and enough energy to power a small country.
“Hey, my girl, how was your weekend with your grandmother?”
“Awesome, amazing, kicked her butt in Rummy… she kicked mine playing Wahoo”
“FREEZE! Do not move, what the hell is that?”
“Huh? What? Oh… isn’t it great? Gram got one too!”
“WHAT? What do you mean Gram got one too? You took my mother to get pierced? My MOTHER has a pierced belly button? I need to sit!”
Victoria was laughing too hard at first to respond.
“Not exactly! I got my belly button pierced, Gram just got her cartilage pierced!”
“Just… my mother ‘just’ had her cartilage pierced? Seriously? The same mother who wouldn’t even pierce her ears until her 55th birthday? That mother? MY mother??”
“Chill Mom, it looks great. Gram’s a lot more hip than you give her credit for. She’s cool. My friends love her and wish she was their grandmother.”
“Did you just chill me? I know my mother is hip, did you really just use that word? She’s great, but she’s also in her mid seventies. I guess given the option I’d prefer she pierce her cartilage instead of her belly button. Well, she’s an adult, she can make her own decisions. Did she listen when they were giving her the care instructions? Did you go somewhere sanitary to have it done? You didn’t do it yourself did you? Were the needles clean? Are you okay? Did it hurt?”
Laughing, Victoria just plopped on the bed and answered her mother with a simple statement of fact, “Mom, I’m your daughter, you’re her daughter, do you really have any doubt that between the two of us we not only picked a reputable place, but we also inspected it thoroughly and checked their board of health certificates? Come on!”
Mar shook her head and chuckled, “you’re right, I forgot who I am talking to, you guys probably asked if you could sterilize the instruments yourself!”
“Exactly!” after a pause, “Are you angry? I know you said I could do it this summer, but are you angry that I did it without you? I wasn’t trying to leave you out, it just seemed like the right time and place, and Gram was so excited to do this together.”
“No sweetie, I’m not angry. Surprised, yes, I just was caught off guard, but I’m not angry, now, one more hug and then you can help me throw dinner together, your brother is due home in an hour or so and I’d like to have a crash and chat tonight.”
“Uh oh, a crash and chat? What’s going on, who’s sick? What broke? Are we moving? Tell me now, please?”
Crash and chat had been their name for family meetings dating back to when the kids were very young. Back when they were starting their lives together on the Cape, right after the divorce was finalized. Every time there was a challenge they needed to tackle as a family, or any time one of them was going through a rough time, any major decision that needed to be made, all of these things were handled the same way… with a crash and chat. They lit a fire out back in the fire pit, grabbed the blankets and pillows and sat under the stars talking things out. Maybe it was the sea breeze blowing in, the crisp night air, or maybe just the idea that they were under the endless stars and anything seemed possible.. maybe it was a combination of all of those factors, all they knew was that almost anything could be handled, discussed and dealt with if they took the time to have their crash and chat.
“Chill Vic, there’s nothing wrong, nobody is sick, no we’re not moving. I have something I need to bounce off you and your brother and I need your undivided attention. No cell phones, no ipods, no facebook, no instant messenger. “
“Mom, did you just chill me? Haha! Okay, can you at least give me a hint? Did James change his mind? Did he come to his senses and ask you to marry him? That’s it, isn’t it? Woo Hoo I’m going to be a bridesmaid!”
Quietly Mar looked her in the eyes, “No Honey, James hasn’t changed his mind, and honestly… I think I’m coming to terms with it, you need to also.”
“Mom, he loves you, he’s just too stupid to know it.”
“Vic, drop it, please? Seriously, I think we need to move on. I don’t want someone who is, as you put it, ‘too stupid’ to realize that they love me. I want someone who knows it, never doubts it and is willing to shout it from the mountain tops if necessary. Besides, I have you and Stephen, who needs a man?”
“You, me, Gram, just to name a few! Gram and I were talking about this over the weekend. Gram thinks we should go on a singles cruise and find some hot guys.”
“Oh no, you did not talk to my mother about this, please tell me you are teasing me. Please? A singles cruise? You are NOT going on a single’s cruise, you’re 17 for goodness sake. For that matter, neither am I. Gram can do whatever she wants, but we’re not going. Note to self: restrict the amount of time Marge and Victoria have together!”
“Oh Mom, Gram’s right, you need to loosen up.”
“Stop, no more, not another word about what you and your grandmother have discussed or I swear I will walk out of this house and make you prepare dinner all alone.” Victoria was a fantastic cook, probably better than her own mother, but the one thing Victoria loved most about cooking was cooking with her Mother side by side. She cherished every moment they had together creating edible masterpieces. Actually she enjoyed their disasters as much as their masterpieces, as long as they were working together, music playing in the background, talking about everything and nothing at the same time.
“Okay, okay, I surrender, we’ll talk more later. By the way, Gram said to let her know if you need her to come back on Wednesday to pick up Stephen to take him to sailing camp.”
“Crap, I forgot that was this week.”
“Is there a problem?”
“Uh, no, not really, I just have a lunch meeting that day, so yes, I’m going to need her to take him for me. What would I do without her? Wait, let me clarify that statement, what would I do without her help in situations like this… I do not need, nor do I really want her help in the romance department!”
With that they focused on putting dinner together. Victoria popped the iPod onto the dock and chose a playlist that combined old with new so that there was something for each of them to enjoy.
“I’m glad you’re home Vic. I missed you this weekend.”
“I missed you too, I had no intention of staying the whole weekend, it just kind of happened.”
“Those are usually the best weekends, the ones that evolve rather than those that are planned completely.”
“Were you lonely being here all alone all weekend? I’m really sorry, I figured Stephen would be here for at least part of it.”
“No worries honey, I had a great weekend. I walked on the beach, I made my lists, I got some quality time with Liz, had lunch with an old friend, and I got to have some of Mr. Dawson’s clams for dinner last night!”
Victoria groaned, “Did you have to listen to hours and hours of his fishing stories? Did he complain about beach erosion and those darn kids not respecting the land?”
It was hard for Mar to sound stern, “Now Victoria, be respectful. The man has seen a lot in his years, he knows what he’s talking about.”
“Mom, he’s older than God. He may know what he’s talking about, but does he have to talk about it all the time?”
“Oh hush, hand me those tomatoes. He’s a very nice man with a big heart. He loves this area just as much as we do and he’s been here longer. If he wants to tell me the same story over and over again, that’s okay. I respect what he’s been through, what he knows, what he’s seen… and you had better too. Someday I plan to be old and repeat myself constantly and this is a good chance for you to practice your patience and listening skills!”
“Have you seen your mother? You’ll never be old, you’ll just be like a beautifully designed piece of furniture, older in years but more beautiful with each day, and always appreciated and respected.”
“Great, call me a sofa!”
“You know what I mean Mom!” together they laughed and set the table.
Mar had gone out back to set up the fire pit and arrange the blankets, pillows, long sticks for roasting marshmallows, all the vital items necessary for a successful crash and chat. The weather looked like it would be cooperating, so that was good, however, even if it didn’t they would just move the c & c inside. Instead of a fire pit they would use the fire place, and crash on the sofas. What mattered most were the players and the conversation, the rest was flexible. After all, what was more important, the martini glass or the chocolate martini filling it?
“Okay, spill, what’s this all about? What do you know?” Stephen had waited until he was alone with Victoria cleaning up after dinner.
“She wouldn’t tell me a thing. Basically she ruled out disease, disaster, upheaval and marriage.”
“Huh? In English please?”
“I asked her if someone was sick, broken, moving or getting married… she said it’s none of the above.”
“Are you worried? We haven’t had a crash and chat in ages.”
“Well, I know it’s not ME, I mean, I’m doing great, you’re fine, right? Nothing major, you didn’t get anyone pregnant or anything, right?”
“Holy Crap! NO! I’m freaking 15 years old!”
“It could happen.”
“Well, it didn’t, and it won’t so just shut it.”
“Fine… well, if it’s not me, it’s not you, she’s not getting married, nobody is sick etc, what can it be?”
“Oh man, looks like we’re about to find out, here she comes.”
The kitchen door slammed shut, “I heard that. Yes, you are about to find out. Let’s throw everything in the dishwasher and head out back.”
For the next few minutes the only sounds being heard were those of the dishes being cleared, the dishwasher being filled and the garbage being taken out.
Stephen didn’t even wait until they were at the fire pit, “Okay, I vote we skip the marshmallows and dig right in to the topic at hand.”
“Stephen’s right, Mom, let’s have it.”
“Okay, Okay…but you need to hear me out completely. Once I start you can’t stop me, no interrupting, You need to let me get it all out and then we can do what we do best, rip away all the outer wrappings and discuss the core issues, okay? Deal?”
“Do you guys remember my friend Craig Michael from the Briarwood Publishing? Well last Tuesday he asked me to meet him for lunch to discuss something important.”
“He wants to marry you!”
“Victoria Marie, you’re killing me, just stop, nobody is marrying anyone! Remember, no interrupting!”
“Haha, she used your full name, you’re in for it now!”
“Oh hush Stephen! Sorry, go on.”
“Where was I? Oh, right… he said he needed to talk to me. He said his company wanted to make me an offer, they want me to write a book. They think…”
“MOM, that’s great! You could call it Return to Wallama”
Stephen piped in, “Personally I think you should go with My Mama’s from Wallama”.
Mariella simply raised her hand to silence them both. “It’s not like that. It’s not a sequel to Wallama, This is a separate deal, a different project all together. This one is not geared towards kids. They want me to write my story. Our story. They want me to write about my, er, no, our lives. I already told them that I didn’t think it was a good idea. I mean, it’s private right? It’s not my place to reveal the private details of your lives, of your father’s life, of Gram’s life. It’s not appropriate for me to put our laundry out there where everyone can see it. It’s a bad idea to dig up the memories, the pain. It’s wrong to expose you guys and everyone else to the outside world. Who needs to be judged? Really, we don’t need that. It’s not like we’ve led lives that are all that exciting anyway. I mean, okay, we’re not exactly watching paint dry on a daily basis, but we’re not living the high life either… we’re not big partiers, oh yeah, remind me to tell you about the Hamptons too. Where was I? Partiers, right, we’re not big partiers, we don’t have drug or alcohol addictions, there’s no abuse in our history. Really, compared to the flashy celebrity tell alls out there, we’re down right boring. Who would want to read about us anyway? Why should I waste months and months typing our story, dusting off the memories and reopening old wounds, right? Right. Okay, wow, that was easier than I thought. Who wants smores?”
“Whoa, slow down Mom, do you want to hear our opinion on this or not? I can’t speak for Stephen but I know that I have questions and I have an opinion or two that I’d like to voice.”
“Yeah Mom, this isn’t an ambush, it’s a crash and chat, that means we get a say. We get to ‘rip away the outer wrappings and discuss the core issues’, isn’t that what you said when we got out here?”
“No, it’s NOT just… it’s the way this family rolls. We discuss, we peel back the layers and only when the issues are fully explored and revealed then we make our final decisions, as a team. All for one, and one for all… like always, or did that change while Vic and Gram were getting pierced and tattooed?”
“Kidding, he’s kidding. Shut up Stephen! We need to be focused right now otherwise she’s going to let us fight each other and thereby distract us from the topic at hand.”
“You’re right, sorry. Mom, can we get back on track here. Which one of us gets the talking stick first?”
Mar chuckled, when they were younger and would climb in her car after school they would both be complete chatter boxes fighting for the chance to be heard to talk about their day. Because she always treated them each equally she stole an idea from an old movie she loved and created the talking stick. Each child was given the talking stick for five full minutes. Once you had the stick you had the floor, nobody could interrupt you, however, once your time was up you had to zip your lip and become all ears while the other person took their five minutes of uninterrupted chat time. It worked great because they both got to feel like the center of attention and they learned to listen to others.
“Stephen why don’t you go first since your sister already had my undivided attention earlier today before you got home. You’ve got the floor.”
“Thanks. Mom, why do you assume that nobody would want to read it? What makes you think that world needs any more books about celebrities? Granted, I’m a fifteen year old kid, I could care less about who is sleeping with who in Hollywood, I don’t care who broke what contract. Heck, I don’t even read anything but the sports page unless I am absolutely forced. But I do know one thing; I know that people like you. They genuinely like you and like the way you write. They like talking to you, they like listening to you. How many times are you asked to speak at conventions, meetings, etc. Trust me, those corporate types know that if you put one of the CEO’s up there to speak the room will be overrun with snores, but if they put you up there the audience will not only be awake, they’ll be on the edge of their seat waiting to hear what you have to say. I say you do it. Write it Mom, I bet it’s a best seller. I already know what a great person you are, the rest of the world should too.”
One silent tear escaped her eye as she listened to her son voicing his opinion. He wasn’t a little boy anymore, his reasons for supporting her had nothing to do with how cool it would be for his mom to write a book, he didn’t ask if he could get a new toy if the book was a success, he didn’t say that he wanted his friends to be impressed by his famous mom. No, his reasons were based around her talent and ability. He gave her mature responses. Yes, he was growing up so fast. While she was enjoying watching him grown into his manhood a part of her wanted desperately to hold on to his childhood.
Victoria waited a full moment before she spoke, it almost killed her, but she did it. She had a thousand thoughts in her mind and unlike her mother, she didn’t have the patience to list them out and put them in order. No, for her it was more like an avalanche when she opened her mouth.
“By our story, what do you mean? Do you mean like every detail of every guy or girl we’ve ever dated? Are you going to talk to Dad about this? What’s so boring about us anyway? Whoa, does Gram know? When do you start? Did you already write some? Who came up with this idea? Who gets to play me in the movie? Do we get to edit what info is put out there? Do we get to go on book tour with you? What will you call it? What do you mean that nobody would want to read it?”
If they weren’t used to Victoria and her ridiculous amount of energy they would have had to take longer to recover, but they were used to her and they knew that once her lungs ran out of air they would be free to interject.
“Okay, just stop right there. Let me answer your questions as best I can, but seriously, I think I’ve already made my decision, I think I just needed to say it out loud to the two of you before I was sure.”
“NOPE”, they said in unison. Stephen took over, “No, Mom, that’s not how this works and you know it, you set the rules in place many years ago. We get to ask questions and give our opinion. No changing the rules to suit your desires.”
“Fine, okay, let me see. No, Gram doesn’t know yet. As you said, we have a procedure that we follow in this family and part of that procedure is that we discuss it amongst us first, then we bring it to the rest of the family, Gram included. The movie? Really? I haven’t even agreed to write a book yet, you’re as bad as Mr. Michael on this one, he was talking about a movie too! As for your right to edit what I write, that’s a tough one. If I’m going to write something, and I’m not saying that I will, I can’t give you or anyone else the right to edit what I include and what I don’t. It’s one thing when the publisher puts restrictions on how long a book can or cannot be, but content has to be my decision at this point. However, I will agree to discuss openly with you if I am considering mentioning something that could possibly hurt you guys or cause you any type of distress. But if I feel it is pivotal to the story I reserve the right to include it and to tackle the subject with as much sensitivity as possible. Can you live with that?”
Stephen nodded instantly; Victoria thought about it for a few seconds longer and then nodded as well. They knew that their mother was always fair and always treated them and their feelings with complete respect. They knew they could rely on her to do so with this book as well.
Fighting a smile of victory Victoria said, “So, you’ll do it?”
Feeling as though she were tricked, Mar stumbled over her own tongue and said, “No, I didn’t say that. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet. I need to think. This is huge. This isn’t a fictional children’s story about Llamas, this is life, OUR life, this is personal and I just don’t know yet.
Stephen got up and walked towards the cord of wood stacked between the two pine trees, “I can tell we’re going to need more logs, it’s going to be a long night.”
She got almost no sleep last night, tossing and turning most of the night, then when she finally started to drift off Victoria bounces in the room, “Mom, have you made a decision?”
“No Vic, go to bed, it’s 2 a.m., aren’t you waitressing tomorrow? Go get some sleep or you’re going to be cranky and not do well in tips.”
“Night Mom, and um, if I haven’t mentioned it, my vote is still yes.”
“You’ve mentioned it… about 11 times since dinner and I don’t know how many times prior to that. Goodnight!”
Finally at 5 she decided to surrender and just get out of bed. She threw on old sweats, rolled them up to her knees and took off for a walk on the beach. If she wasn’t going to sleep, she could at least try to let the sand work its magic. She absently waved to Mr. Dawson in his slicker as she wound her way to the sandbar and back.
She made the kids breakfast and sent them off to work, Victoria was working at the country club today and Stephen was helping out at the bait shop down the road. They weren’t going to get rich with these jobs, but it taught them responsibility and gave them spending money, what more could you want from a summer job.
Once the house was quiet Mar got herself dressed and ready to go. A cotton skirt covered in blue and green flowers and faded green top with sandals and she was ready to go. She hopped in the convertible and smiled when she realized that Mr. Dawson was finally wrong, it was gorgeous today, he wouldn’t need his slicker after all! With that thought she put the top down, breathing a sigh of relief when it went down fluidly and didn’t get stuck mid way as it had been doing lately. Throwing in her favorite James Taylor CD she hit the open road. Sun on her face, curls blowing in the breeze, warm enough but not too hot, the humidity levels were high, but this is the Cape, it’s to be expected.
Traffic on 28 was heavier than normal for a Wednesday, but Mar didn’t really notice because she was rehearsing in her head what she would say to Craig. She needed to give him the same rule she gave the kids at the Crash and Chat, let me blurt out what I have to say, uninterrupted, and then we can discuss. How was he going to react?
The crack of thunder snapped her out of her trance almost immediately. Unfortunately it wasn’t soon enough. The drops came fast and hard. Big drops, thousands of them hit the windshield all at once. Trying to pull out of traffic and into the gift shop parking lot across the street was far more difficult than it should be at this hour on a Wednesday. Traffic was bumper to bumper, nobody would let her cross over the lane to the gift shop, and it was as if they all had a very important meeting with the president or something!
Finally some kind soul let her cross and she threw the car in park so she could put the top up. She was sending up a quiet prayer of thanks as the top began rising into place. That quiet prayer turned into a loud curse within seconds. The top was stuck at a 45* angle.
“Seriously? TODAY? You do this to me today? I could handle this tomorrow, heck, every day for the next week, but not today!! Argggghhhhhh”
She dug through her purse in search of her cell phone, trying to remember if it was even charged, something she often forgot to do. Her fingers latched on to it and she peeked at it, yes, one bar left on the battery, it was going to work. She called AAA for roadside assistance and bit her tongue as the gentleman who answered the phone chuckled as she described the torrential downpour and her half open roof. He assured her he would dispatch a local mechanic immediately. She gave him the make and model of her car so that the garage could bring replacement parts if they thought it was necessary. Thanking him she hung up and tossed the phone back in her bag, making a mental note to look for the car charger once she was protected from the rain.
She ran to the gift shop and was surprised to find the store owner, a beautiful woman with silver hair, standing there with a towel in hand and a cup of coffee. She had been watching out the window and saw Mariella’s nightmare unfold. “Did you get hold of a mechanic sweetie?”
“Yes, thank you so much. Ugh, I look like a downed rat, where did that storm come from? It just hit from nowhere!”
“Oh, no sweetie, it’s been raining lightly for about a quarter of an hour now, how did you not notice that if you were driving with the top down?”
“Really? Wow, I guess I was deep in thought. I have an important lunch meeting that I’m very nervous about and I was running through what I had to say in my head and I guess I just didn’t feel the rain.”
“Oh honey, and now your clothes are a wet mess, and I hate to tell you this but your blouse is now completely sheer. You’re going to want to change that before your meeting.”
“No, I can’t, I don’t have anything else with me! Do you have anything here that I could buy?”
“Well, we have some great tee shirts, but something tells me you need something a little dressier than a tee shirt.”
“I do.” This day was just going downhill fast.
“Wait here, I just thought of something that we might be able to make work. Lester… Lester, where are you?”
A little old man, almost bent in half came in the room shuffling his feet, he looked at his wife and said, “Yes Lucille?”
“Lester, where is that blue dress shirt Jason bought you?”
“Huh? Oh oh oh, the fancy one?”
“Lester, how many dress shirts has the boy bought you? Yes, the blue fancy one.”
“Well, I think it’s still in the stock room, why?”
“Nevermind that, would you grab it for me?”
Lucille shot through the swinging doors and came back a moment later with a white tank top that had “Kiss the Lifeguard” written across the back.
“Here, throw this on.”
Not wanting to offend the kind shop owner, but also knowing that the tank top was not appropriate for her lunch meeting, Mar hesitated.
Sensing her quandary Lucille laughed, “Oh, honey, no worries, I know what it says on the back, don’t worry, nobody is going to see that part… I have a plan.”
Lester shuffled back into the room with a beautiful indigo blue button down dress shirt and handed it to Lucille who then handed it to Mariella, “Quick, try this on, I bet we can get you all fixed up before the mechanic even gets here. But, just in case, Lester, keep an eye out for the mechanic, my guess is they’ll send someone from Fred’s garage.”
“Yes, my love”, this was said with such love and affection that Mariella was touched, feeling as though she was invading a private moment.
Mariella slipped the dress shirt on only to find that it was a bit too large. Trying not to appear ungrateful she rolled up the sleeves and looked at Lucille. Lucille had her finger pressed to her lips and she was nodding her head, “Yes, yes indeed, we can make this work, take that back off for a second would you dear?”
Confused but happy to be out of her wet blouse Mariella decided to go along. She walked over to the wardrobe mirror in the corner. The tank top was starting to grow on her. Lucille was right, from the front it looked like just a plain white tank and it showed off her bronze suntan. The rain had energized her curls and they were now framing her face, her highlights making her blue eyes shine even brighter. She realized that she was probably going to look like a total mess by the time she got to her luncheon, her luncheon, oh no, she was going to be late. She ran for her purse in the dressing room and prayed that the single bar on her battery was still there. It was. She called Craig quickly and got his voicemail. She left him a message saying that she was having car trouble but would be there as soon as the mechanic helped her out.
When she returned to the main storeroom Lucille was standing there with a look that indicated she was quite pleased with herself. “Here you go honey, try it again.”
“How? What? This is fantastic, how did you do this?” The blouse that Mariella put on earlier, the boxy oversized shirt was no more. In its place was a more fitted indigo blouse with an adorable thin belt to wrap around her middle.
“Trick of the trade, I used to be a seamstress. I merely added some belt loops, found a blue piece of ribbon for a belt and threw in a couple of darts down the back to bring it in a little, make it less boxy.”
“You are an angel from above, thank you so very much. How much do I owe you? This is truly amazing.”
“No, no, nothing dear, just have a good meeting.”
“No, that’s not right. I need to do something, you’ve done so much for me, you gave me shelter from the storm. You got me out of my wet top and into this tank and then you created this beautiful top for me.”
“Honey, you’ve had enough challenges for one day, consider this the ‘break’ that everyone always asks for when life gets hard. Pay it forward, next time you see someone in need, do for them whatever you can to make their day better. Oh, and it looks as though Fred sent a truck over, Lester’s already out there toweling dry your interior.”
Mariella hugged Lucille and grabbed her purse before heading outside. The rain had stopped again. Raising an eyebrow to the sky Mariella walked over and found the mechanic hanging out of her backseat. “Excuse me, hi, this is my car, do you think you’ll be able to get the top back up?”
The mechanic grunted and gave her a thumbs up. One more twist of the wrench and he backed out of her car and straightened himself. Wiping his hands on a rag hanging from his back pocket he smiled at her and told her it was all set. “Hi, you’re all set, you had a joint that was stuck and a bolt that was stripped happens all the time on this type of car.”
She was thrown off, standing before her was a very good looking man. Yes, he had a nice physique, but that wasn’t what struck her, no, it was the way his smile went all the way to his beautiful blue eyes. He didn’t make her feel foolish for getting caught in the rain, no, instead he made her feel as though it could happen to anyone.
“Great, thank you for coming out. How much do I owe you, er, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Ryan, my name is Ryan. You don’t owe me anything, it’s all covered by your AAA policy.”
“Right, right, sorry. Do I tip you? I mean is that normal procedure? Sorry, I normally bring my car for service, I’ve never had service come to me before.”
Ryan laughed. “No, no tipping necessary. You should be good to go now, forecast is for off and on showers today though, I’d keep that in mind.”
“Right, sorry, I’ll do that. Thanks again for your help.”
“Have a good day.” He gave her a business card with the garage’s phone numbers on it, his name written on the back. He turned to leave but then stopped, “One more thing though”
Expecting him to take this opportunity to make a comment about her car needing a good wash inside and out, she said, “Yes?”
“Stop apologizing so much, you couldn’t help what happened. Something tells me you do that a lot, you should stop.”
“Oh, sor…. Um, thanks for the suggestion.”
He looked at her, gave her a smile and walked back to the truck chuckling to himself.
Mariella was watching him walk away when she realized that Lester and Lucille were watching her from the window. Giving them a wave and a smile Mariella climbed into her now dry car. Lester had done a fantastic job drying everything off for her. She put the top up the rest of the way, it didn’t’ matter how sunny it was right now, she wasn’t willing to put it back down and risk more trouble. Then again, if anything went wrong she now had Ryan’s number. Thinking on that for a moment she finally gave in to the giggles and drove on to her appointment with Craig.
Mariella pulled into the restaurant parking lot and unplugged her cell phone from the car charger. Looking at the battery she smiled when she saw that it was now up to three bars, not fully charged, but three bars gave her more of a secure feeling than the one little bar she had 45 minutes ago! She promised herself she’d be better about keeping it charged, a promise that she had made several times before, but this time she meant it, no, really!
As she was grabbing her bag off the back seat her phone rang, it was Liz. She quickly answered it, “No, I haven’t made my decision, NO, I haven’t talked to him yet, YES, I will call you as soon as I get out, YES, I wore the flower skirt you gave me, let’s see.. did I forget anything?”
Liz laughed, “Well, Hello would have been a nice way to start, but other than that you answered most of what I haven’t asked yet. How are you doing honey? Are you nervous, calm, freaked out, needing an adult beverage?”
“I’m okay, which is amazing since I had a nightmarish ride here, but details on that later. I can’t really talk, I’ve already kept him waiting for me because of my morning and I just got here. I’ll call you as soon as I leave, okay?”
“You got it babe, zozo, my fingers, toes and eyes are crossed for you. Call soon though, this could get painful.”
Mariella cracked up, “Zozo right back at you, I’ll call soon.” Zozo had been their own private joke since they were in college. One night laying in bed they got into a conversation on the origin of certain words and meanings and they understood that an ‘o’ would represent a hug, but why would an ‘x’ represent a kiss, any letter could have done, hence the birth of zozo instead of xoxo.
She reapplied her lip balm, finger combed her curls one last time and climbed out of the car. Throwing her bag over her shoulder she walked into the restaurant. Craig waved to her and stood to greet her as she arrived at the table. “You look stunning Mar”.
“Well, thank you Craig, if you only knew!”
“Is everything okay with your car? Did you have an accident or something? You were brief in your message so I don’t know what happened.”
“Mother Nature, that’s what happened. She decided to teach me a lesson today and boy did she succeed.”
Craig laughed, “Oh, and what lesson was that?”
“The lesson to not doubt Mr. Dawson ever again! Let’s just say that I have a neighbor who is scarily accurate when it comes to forecasting the weather and this morning I dismissed his yellow slicker warning and ended up getting caught in a horrible downpour with the top down. Well, actually it was half up or half down, it got stuck at 45* and refused to budge. From now on if I see Old Mr. D, as my kids call him, sporting a parka in July I’m going to take his warning very seriously and grab my ski jacket on the way out the door.”
They were still laughing over the details of the morning when their waitress showed up with Mar’s tea. Instead of ordering her usual salad Mar opted for a bowl of chowder and half a sandwich, comfort food but after a morning like this it was certainly called for.
Craig waited as patiently as he could for Mariella to broach the topic. She knew him well enough to know that he was working to physically rein himself in and be patient, she found this humorous but felt bad that it was such an effort for him. He was a good looking man and he was used to things going his way without much effort. He must really want her to write this book if he was willing to put this much effort in to make her comfortable.
“Craig, let’s deal with the elephant in the room.”
“Really, where?” and he made a show of looking around the room.
“Cute, I thank you for being so patient with me on this. It’s not an easy choice for me, it’s not just my life that I’d be exposing, it’s bigger than just me, much bigger and I need to be sure that I’m making the right choice.”
“Are you telling me that you’re making the right choice, or are you making the safe choice?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t actually have a final decision ready to hand you. I have talked to my kids, they both gave me their opinions, my mom threw in her two cents and if my mom gave me two cents, Liz gave me about a dollar’s worth of her opinion. What it boils down to is me, what I’m willing or not willing to do.”
“Mar, you’re killing me here, I am trying so very hard to be patient…”
“No, I know you are, and believe me, I know how difficult this is for you, and I appreciate how patient you’ve been, I really do. It’s just that this is about the biggest decision I’ve had to make since five years back when I was figuring out if my marriage was salvageable or not.”
Quietly he said, “I know it’s a big decision. Do you want me to call my boss and see if they’ll give you another extension? They may not agree, seriously they’ve been far more lenient with me on this than they ever have been before, but their main concern is always the bottom line and there are plenty of authors out there who would absolutely jump at the chance.”
“No, I don’t want you to ask for any more favors. I want you to hear me out; I mean really hear me out. Not as a businessman trying to make a deal, but as my friend, as a guy that I used to date, as someone who’s name and office fling can easily be thrown in as part of my story if you don’t play your cards right.”
Her eyes were doing it again, sparkling like they do when she’s being mischievous. She had no idea the effect that she had on him, and if he didn’t get her to forgive him for that stupid one night fling he had with … with… he couldn’t even remember her name at this point. Anyway, if he didn’t get her to forgive him for that he’d never get the chance to tell her how much he regretted that night. The boy he was back then may not have appreciated her the way she deserved, but the man he is today wants nothing more than to spend the rest of his life making up for lost time with the woman she has become.
“I can do that. Please don’t look at me so skeptically, I can do this for you. Talk to me, really tell me what’s going on here.”
She paused; she could see the sincerity in his eyes. He wasn’t using his salesman ways on her, he was really listening. “I am afraid. I don’t want to write an expose, I don’t want to inflict pain on others by exposing their truths, what if I say something in the book that reveals too much and ends up hurting those that I love?”
“Mariella that’s not going to happen. I know you, if you even thought that something might hurt someone you would talk to them first. You would never write anything that would hurt others, you can’t even talk mean about your ex husband and heaven knows he has given you ample reason to. No, I believe your friends and their stories are in good hands. You never write with malice, you will treat their stories with kindness and respect just as you treat the people in them.”
“I don’t know. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by the idea of putting it all down in writing. The offer you gave me the other day has certainly caused me hours of reflection and contemplation.”
“What did your kids think? I’m assuming you had a chew and chat with them about this?”
“You’re too funny, it’s a Crash and Chat, and yes, I did. Victoria thinks it’s a fabulous idea.”
“What about Stephen?” He knew that of the two Stephen would look at it from all angles before giving his opinion. He was the type of kid who always thought of how things would affect others not just himself. He was the one who always looked out for the underdog.
“He asked me a bunch of questions and then took a while to think about it, but when he came back to me he was behind the idea as well. He said a lot of the things that you just said but in his own words. I believe he worded it something like this, ‘Mom, no worries, you’ll give them all a fair shake and you won’t throw anyone under a bus.”
Craig had to laugh at that, the kid was right on the money and had a way with words. “So, that leaves Marge and Liz because I’m guessing you didn’t put it before a committee vote with the rest of your army.”
“Ha ha, very funny, Marge said that as long as I described her as thin and very young for her age then she was all for it. Liz was the thrilled that you echoed her thoughts and said it was about time. As for the army, as in my siblings, I will see them all this weekend when we head to my Mom’s cottage rental in Wareham for the annual Spaghetti Dinner with the neighborhood. At that point I’ll present it to them all. I considered calling them first and getting their take on it, but truth be told they’re always behind anything I do, so I know that no matter what I decide they’d support me.”
“Okay, so let’s tally the results so far, that’s, um, EVERYONE in the plus column and NOBODY in the negative column so far. Let’s have it Mar, what’s your final decision?”
Mariella deliberately took a slow sip of her tea. It was now or never. He was right, everyone was in her corner telling her to do this, did she have the guts to go for it or was she going to play it safe and walk away keeping her stories to herself.
For Craig the minutes dragged on forever. He could see the self doubt in her eyes. He saw the way she pushed her spoon around in the now empty bowl of chowder. She was nibbling on her lower lip. Finally she looked up at him and with a guarded smile she said, “I’ll do it.”
“Stephen? Where did he go, he was just here!”
“I don’t know Mom, let’s just leave him. He won’t even notice, he spends his whole day doing nothing but texting Emily and those bimbos that he met in Hyannis, seriously.”
Trying to keep a straight face Mar said, “No, we’re not leaving him, and I’m sure they’re nice girls, your brother doesn’t like bimbos.”
“Mom, puh-leeze, he’s fifteen, he likes all girls. He just happens to bring home the nice ones. Speaking of, what happened to him and Emily, did they break up? I tried stalking her on facebook but couldn’t figure anything out.”
“Victoria you really need to leave them alone. As for them breaking up, I don’t think so, I hope not. She’s good for your brother and I think he’s good for her. Well, as good as they can be for each other at fifteen.”
Stephen chose that moment to emerge from the garage… wearing a bike helmet. “No, we did not break up, we’re just taking a breather. Well, not really a breather, I don’t know what to call it, but we’re not broken up.”
“Okay, and I’m sure this is a fascinating story, and I really do want to discuss this with you, but, first explain the helmet please.”
“Oh, this? Yeah, well, I heard you tell Vic that she could drive to Wareham and I thought I’d take the necessary precautions.” Then his helmet actually came in handy as his sister threw her flip flop with impressive accuracy right at his head.
Laughing they climbed into the car. Victoria snapped on her seatbelt and glanced at her brother in the rear view mirror, “Okay, now back up, what’s the deal with you and Emily, I really like her, I had our future all mapped out, sisterly shopping sprees to the outlets, lunch meetings where we both complain about you and your knack for losing your keys and wallet every five minutes. Don’t break my heart, fix this.”
“Just relax, we didn’t break up. She threw a fit because those girls were texting me that we met in Hyannis, I let her read the texts, I have nothing to hide. She thought I was cheating on her. I wasn’t, I wouldn’t. I don’t know, she’s being ridiculous.”
“Really? That doesn’t sound like Emily. Are you sure you didn’t give her reason to overreact?”
“No, it’s stupid. I mean, yeah, they text me, but it’s no big deal.” He looked up and saw his mother looking at him over her shoulder. “Okay, well, she read one of the texts and, well, and this girl named Stef said I was hot and she called me Babe in the text.”
“And you think she’s ridiculous for getting upset by that? How would you feel if you read a text like that from some guy to her on her phone?”
He hated to admit that his mother was right, but now when he looked at it like that he realized that Emily had every reason to be upset with him. “No, maybe she has a point. I’ll call her when we get to Wareham.”
Victoria chimed in, “Good, because I’m not ready to give up my sisterly lunches with her.”
“It’s not like I called Stef Babe, I didn’t. I don’t flirt with other girls. I’m faithful.”
Mar hid a smile as she heard his words, mature words for a fifteen year old. Ah, to be that age again. The age where you’re convinced the relationship you are in is the one you will be in for the rest of your life. Little does he know that he doesn’t know enough about love at this point to fill a thimble. No, he may not know enough about love, but then again, he also doesn’t know much about heartache either which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. No, in time he will learn those lessons, for now he should just enjoy his blissful lack of knowledge in matters of the heart.
“Stephen why don’t you call her now?”
He hesitated, made eye contact with his sister in the mirror again, saw the warning look she gave him and answered, “No, Mom, I’ll call her from there, it’s okay. I wouldn’t want to distract Victoria while she’s driving, and we both know that she would be concentrating on every word of my conversation, therefore taking her mind off her driving duty and we really can’t afford to risk that.” He strapped his helmet back into place and laughed at his sister’s sneer.
As they pulled down the road that led to the cottage her mother was renting Mariella commented on the unusual amount of cars parked on the side of the road, “Wow, looks like the spaghetti supper is going to be enormous this year. I hope there’s enough food, maybe we should run to the store to pick up more desserts.”
“Awe Mom, let’s just go in and see Gram first, besides Victoria has to use the bathroom.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, I do.”
“Now that’s interesting, you can now detect when you sister has to use the bathroom?”
“Mom, you know Vic, it’s the first thing she does as soon as we get to our destination. Think about it, she knows where every single bathroom is in the mall… every single one!”
Vic sent him a death look in the rear view mirror. A look she had perfected over time, in their earlier years it had the desired effect, however, now that he was taller than her by two inches he no longer took it as a threat, now it was more like a warning and that didn’t really strike fear in his heart.
Fortunately Marge took that moment to come out the front door. She was dressed in typical Cape style, Khaki shorts, white polo shirt and canvas sneakers. She came towards them and wrapped Stephen in a hug. “Hi guys, how was traffic? Oh, Vic, did you drive? How was it?” Mariella thought her mother seemed a little wound up, perhaps she forgot to order decaf this morning.
“Hi Gram, yes, I drove, it was great.”
Stephen groaned, “Yeah, if you like driving with a race car driver.”
Victoria ignored him. “How’s the piercing, have you been washing it every night? Did you remember to twist it? Have you had any pain?”
“Okay, hold up, before the two of you chatter boxes go into overdrive, Hello Mother.”
“Hi sweetie, I love that top, is that new?”
“It’s a white top Mom, nothing fancy. Besides, you said that your friend Stacey was going to take a family portrait today and we all had to wear white shirts and khaki shorts or pants.”
“Right, right, she is, I just meant that it was a nice white top.”
“Uh huh, does somebody want to tell me what’s going on here? You’re awfully wired today, what gives?”
“What? No, nothing honey, I am just happy that you’re here. Everyone else is already here, they’re down the beach, why don’t you guys unpack the car and we’ll head down too.”
“Stephen, Vic, you heard your grandmother, the beach calls.” With that they got right to work and had the car unpacked in a matter of minutes.
They stopped for a moment where pavement met the sand so that they could slip off their shoes and walk barefoot on the beach. Mariella bent down to pick up her sandals, when she straightened back up she was surprised to see a crowd of people before her, all cheering and clapping their hands. Her sisters stood in the front of the group, their children and spouses by their sides. Liz and Christopher were there, so was Craig. Her aunts and uncles were there, as were her cousins. She was overwhelmed by the sea of faces. Seeing the confusion playing out in her features they all walked towards her and took turns hugging her and congratulating her.
“Well, my friend, it’s safe to say the word is out. Marge lit up the phone wires as soon as you told her that you agreed to do the book deal. I’m so proud of you, as you can see, we all are.”
“Thanks Liz, this is amazing. I don’t get it, what about the Spaghetti Supper?”
Liz laughed at her friend. “Oh Honey, the Spaghetti Supper is still going on, it’s in the cul-de-sac like always. This party is all about you, it’s a lobster and clam bake in your honor. Marge has been in her element all week long, planning and orchestrating with your aunts. Sit back and enjoy the ride sweetie.”
For the next half hour Mariella was surrounded by well wishers. Her siblings each took turns hugging her and offering her encouragement and congratulations. Even though Mar knew they would be supportive it came as a huge relief to actually hear them all say the words out loud. It was as if a weight was being lifted, pound by pound with each validation they gave her.
“Well, what do you think? Now do you believe me that you’ve made the right decision or would you like to tell me again that you’re worried that people will be upset if you write your story?”
Mariella turned to see Craig standing behind her. “No, I admit, you were right. This party is unbelievable. How on earth did my mother pull this off? Wait, come to think of it, how did she know how to find you? I mean, I know you guys met once, about ten years ago, but I’m fairly certain no phone numbers were exchanged.”
Craig laughed, “I’ll never tell. For all you know Marge and I could be dating!” The frozen smile on Mar’s face made him laugh even harder. “Really now… do you really think I’d be dating your mother? She’s a beautiful woman and everything, but no, I’ve got my sights set on someone else, a new writer that I just acquired. You may have heard of her, Mariella Chase?”
Mar laughed and then lightly punched him in the arm, “So, how did she get a hold of you?”
“I told you, I’m not telling, and you’re missing the main point here. What do you say Mar, are you going to agree to go on that date with me to check out the restaurant on the island?”
She took a moment to think before answering him with a question of her own.
“Are you serious about this Craig? Why? Why now?”
He saw the hesitation in her eyes. Hesitation was better than blatant rejection; he saw that as a good sign. He took a deep breath and looked right into her blue doubting eyes. “Well, to begin with; we haven’t seen each other much over the last couple of years. A lot has changed with me, a lot has changed within me as well. I’m not the stupid play boy you remember. I’m not the man that hurt you, no, scratch that. I AM the man that hurt you, but I’m also the man that learned from that, and I am no longer the type of man that would do that. I’m more solid now, I know who I am, I no longer worry about who I want to be when I grow up, I am grown up. I don’t see women as objects anymore, okay this all sounds like a line, may I explain?”
“A few years back I fell in love, head over heels with a woman that I met on the ferry. Her name was Anne and she knocked me for a loop. She was beautiful and kind. She taught me patience, she helped me to understand what it meant to love someone more than you love yourself. There was nothing that I wouldn’t do for her. We laughed all the time. We had fun whether we were out with friends or sitting at home reading the newspaper. She was the type of person who worked hard, played hard and loved with every breath she took. Right up until she took her last breath.”
Mariella gasped. She could see the love in his eyes, hear the heartbreak in his voice. “I am so sorry Craig.”
“No, don’t be. I am not sorry for one second that I spent with her. I miss her every day of my life, but I do not regret one thing that I said or did with her while I was blessed enough to have her here with me. She told me the day we met that she had been diagnosed with less than a year to live. I think she was trying to warn me so that I wouldn’t get too involved, but as fate would have it, one look in her eyes and I was already involved. One year, one month, one week, one day… it didn’t matter, I would take whatever time we would have together and I would cherish each moment, and I did, we did.”
“My point is, in that eleven months Anne taught me to appreciate life and never take anything for granted. Thanks to her I have a new view on life and I like myself better this way. I know I messed up when we dated years ago and I want a chance to show you the new me, I think you’ll like who I’ve become. Come on, what’s the worst that will happen, you get a nice boat ride to the island and a great dinner out of it. What do you say Mariella, will you?”
“Wow, Craig, you’ve been through so much. I’m surprised I didn’t hear about any of this sooner. It sounds like you’ve had a rough couple of years. I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you’ll go to dinner with me.”
“Craig, it’s not you, it’s me. I just went through this break up with James and I’m gun shy.”
He thought about this for a moment, “I can understand that Mar, is there a chance that the two of you will get back together?”
“I don’t think so, I think he has already moved on, and to be honest, I don’t know that he ever loved me to begin with. Part of me thinks he did and that’s what scared him away, but a bigger part of me thinks he just didn’t love me enough and that’s why he broke it off.”
“Okay, so, if he’s already moved on, don’t you think it’s time you give your heart a chance to beat again? Come on Mar, give me a chance to see if I can make your heart beat. One date, it’s all I’m asking for. If we go and you are uncomfortable or don’t feel an attraction I promise to bow out gracefully and go back to just being your publisher. If you’re worried about that end of things I can hand over your deal to one of my colleagues and let them handle your book.”
“You’d lose money if you do that Craig.”
“Money is not going to hold me at the end of the day, money will not dance with me until I’m old and gray, money will not look nearly as nice over a candlelit dinner as you would. I’m serious about this Mar, I want a chance, and yes, signing over your contract to a colleague is worth it to me if that’s what it takes.”
“No, you will not sign over my contract, you’re part of the reason I finally took the deal, I only want to work with you on this.” She took a moment to choose her words carefully. “Okay Craig, let’s give it a try. One date, we’ll see where it goes from there.”
He came forward and wrapped her in his arms. He didn’t lean down to kiss her, no, he would respect her wishes and go very slow and steady with her. One date, to her it was just one date, to him it was the beginning.
“Liz you have to come over here. She’s ‘in the zone’ and won’t listen to me. She has to get going or she’ll never be ready on time.”
“Alright, let me get Chris to find Harrison for me, I swear, that cat hides on purpose after I have had a night out, she’s punishing me for going out last night.” Liz promised to be over in two minutes and hung up the phone.
Liz gave a shout to her husband, “Christopher, Lady Harrison is pouting again and I can’t find her to give her her medicine, can you please work your magic and find her for me, apparently Mar is in author mode and the kids can’t get through to her.”
Chris came in from the mud room. “What’s up, you guys have been on her forever to write this book, why the complaints about her being in author mode?”
“We’re thrilled she’s writing! Only thing is, tonight’s her date with destiny and she has to be ready in less than an hour.”
“I thought his name was Craig?” Luckily he skirted around the corner into the kitchen before she was able to find something to throw at him. He loved Liz and all her feistiness, never a dull moment, never.
Liz grabbed her three favorite dresses, some earrings, and her sexy strappy sandals that Christopher loved so much. Finding him in the kitchen she grabbed him, gave his mouth a reason to want her to return and walked out smiling smugly as he groaned and told her to hurry. She practically ran to Mariella’s cottage.
“Okay, where is she?”
Stephen answered first, “She’s in her office and I’m telling you, she’s in the zone, she won’t listen to a thing we say. She hasn’t eaten a bite all day long and if it wasn’t for the occasional bathroom break I’d be going in to check her for a pulse. She’s totally focused and has tuned out the world.”
“I’m on it. While I’m working on her, throw together a small plate of cheese and crackers. Nothing messy, finger food that she can eat while I force her to do girly prep work. Oh, and throw in a glass of iced tea, not that decaf crap she insists on in the afternoon either, if she’s been in there working all day and hasn’t had food she’ll need the caffeine so she doesn’t fall asleep at dinner. Victoria, you come with me, but stand back. You know how she hates to be disturbed, well, this is going to be worse because she’s going to go right from being cranky about that to being in panic mode over the fact that she has less than an hour to put herself together for her date.”
Together they walked towards her office door. Liz didn’t bother to knock, it would just go unheard anyway. They got three steps in the door before they saw that they were in more trouble than originally anticipated. Not only was she not ready for her date, she was not ready for public viewing… period! Hair piled high in what can only be described as a birds nest of a bun, curls sticking out randomly all over. She wore no make up, a pair of ripped sweatpants that were cut off just below the knee, an oversized button down shirt that used to belong to her father and her tattered lobster slippers. She was a sight alright; if Liz had her camera this would have made an ideal picture for blackmail use somewhere down the road when Mariella was rich and famous. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to chuckle over the situation, no, they had to go into overdrive to turn this nightmare into a dream come true.
The first thing Liz did was stand directly in front of Mar’s laptop. She had a state of the art computer system sitting at the far corner of her desk, a signing bonus from Briarwood Publishing, but she refused to use it. Instead she was tapping away at her old, very worn external keyboard that was attached by USB hub to her computer. Last year the actual keyboard built into the laptop had died a painful death and would no longer work. Money was tight at the time, so she couldn’t afford to spend the money to have it repaired, instead she spent less than ten dollars and bought an external keyboard and carried that with her everywhere she went. It never failed to be a conversation piece, and now she was just used to it and preferred it over the shiny expensive computer BP had given her. Her laptop felt more intimate. Craig said he would arrange for a new laptop for her if that was her tool of choice, but she insisted she was just fine with what she had.
As she reached the end of her paragraph she became aware of the shadow before her. Looking up she said, ‘Good morning Liz, what brings you by?”
Liz laughed, “Hi honey, now, don’t freak”
“What’s wrong, where’s Stephen? Is it Marge? Oh no!”
“Now, what part of ‘don’t freak’ did you miss? Nothing is wrong with anyone! Stephen is in the kitchen, Marge is probably out picking up men at Shaws. Everyone is fine. But honey, it’s not morning, it’s 5:10 and …”
She didn’t get a chance to finish that sentence before Mar jumped up and screamed, “WHAT?”
“Now, don’t panic, we’re here to help.”
“Why didn’t you guys stop me, why didn’t you come get me?”
Liz put up a hand to stop Victoria before she began to defend herself. “Mar, you’re in the zone, why do you think they called me? They’ve been trying to feed you all day, they tried stopping you two hours ago and you kicked them out of the room.”
“Oh man, I did, didn’t I? What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to hop in the shower then meet Vic and I in your bedroom, I’ve brought supplies, Victoria will do your make up, and we’ll have you gorgeous in no time at all.”
With that Mariella ran from the room and never saw the look of utter relief on her daughter’s face as she hugged Liz, “Thank you thank you thank you a thousands times over. She just wouldn’t listen to us.”
“No worries Pumpkin, she has always been this way, I’m immune to her by now.”
Victoria hugged Liz one more time before heading upstairs to set up her make up kit for her mother’s transformation. “I love that you still call me Pumpkin”.
“You’ll always be Pumpkin to me.”
Together they turned Mariella’s room into a private boutique. Mar had a couple of dresses in her closet that would work, but Liz knew that she was secretly in love with the ones that Liz had brought over, so she put those up as options as well.
When Mariella stepped out of the shower she was surprised to see her room. “Where did all of this come from?”
“Fairy Godmother dropped it off, no time for details, let’s get going. Lather on that pretty scented body lotion that you love so much then come pick out a dress.”
“Oh Liz, your dresses!! I can’t possibly wear one of these!”
“You can, and you will if you choose. I can usually only wear one at a time anyway and these three are a little dressy for the beach picnic Chris and I are having tonight.”
“Thank you, you’re amazing.”
“And you’re late, lets get going. Mr. Hottie is going to be here at 6, that gives us 30 minutes to turn you into a fairy princess.”
Mariella went right for the lavender silk sleeveless dress that Liz bought for a wedding last year. It had a deep V neckline and a deep V in the back as well, the hem falling just below her knees. It fit her as if it were made just for her. The color of the dress brought out the silver specks in Mariella’s eyes.
Victoria saw the silver specks and decided to play them up as she skillfully applied the shadow to her mother’s eyelids. She really didn’t need blush, her skin was kissed by the sun each morning as she walked on the beach and already had a healthy glow. She added a light touch of gloss to her mother’s lips, knowing that Mar never wore more than the bare minimum when it came to make up. Victoria was proud of the look she produced, she had been doing make up for the high school theatre department for the past three years, but that always required a heavier hand and effort, this was far more fun.
In under twenty minutes Mariella went from disaster to date ready.
“You look fantastic Mar, you really do.”
“Wow you guys, look what you did to me, how on earth did you do this?”
“Mom, we may have helped decorate you a little, but the real beauty is within you no matter what you’re wearing.”
Mar laughed, “In that case, where are my sweats?”
“Oh no you don’t! Those things need to be burned with that stupid peach sweatshirt!”
Stephen walked in the room and let out a whistle, “NICE! Mom, you look hot!”
“Why thank you kind sir!”
“No, I’m serious, this guy better behave himself tonight or I’ll…”
“You’ll what, chase him with your skateboard? Come on Steve, Mom’s old enough to take care of herself, and to be honest, something tells me this guy isn’t going to risk messing this up. I’ve seen the way he looks at you Mom, he’s already got the look.”
“The look a man in the desert gives his first glimpse of water, and Mom, you look like a glass that is filled with crushed ice and crystal clear water in that dress.”
They all laughed at Victoria’s description. “Thank you, I think?”
She was nibbling on a cracker and piece of cheese as they heard the rap on the screen door.
“I’ll get it, I want to have a little chat with Daddy dearest.”
“Stephen! He is not trying to be your father, Liz, help!”
Liz simply laughed. “Relax Mar, he’s trying to rile you up, and it seems he is succeeding. Stephen, go for it, we’ll be down in a minute. A lady has to make an entrance.”
Mariella rolled her eyes, but took the extra minute to check her reflection one last time. Thinking back on how she looked in the mirror when she first walked into the bathroom to take her shower, she had to admit, they were miracle workers, she really did look good. One last deep breath then she headed for the stairs, pausing long enough to hear that Craig and Stephen were laughing about something that happened in the Red Sox game last night.
“Hi Craig, great suit.”
“Mariella, you look beautiful.” He tried to say more, but was afraid he’d scare her off. She really did look beautiful. Her hair was still damp from her recent shower. He wanted to reach out and wrap one of those loose curls in his fingers, instead he just said, “We should probably hit the road, traffic wasn’t too bad on my way in, but something tells me the traffic is going to be a bit heavier on our way to the boat.”
“Right, okay.” Turning to her kids she said, “You guys are in for the night, right?”
“Yep, we’re going to meet the gang down on the beach around 8 and have a bon fire, Chris said he’d hook us up. We’ll head back up here by eleven.”
“Don’t worry Mar, Chris and I are having a picnic on the beach in a few minutes, we’ll keep a distant eye on the crew on the beach and these two know enough to give a yell if they need anything.”
“Mom, we’re good, really, go with Mr. Michael and have a fun time. We’re fine, right Stephen?”
“She’s right Mom, I hate to admit it, I’m sure her head will swell, but she’s right, we’re fine. Go have fun.”
With that she kissed them both good bye, gave Liz an extra squeeze and whispered, “Thanks Fairy Godmother, what would I do without you. Zozo”
Liz looked at her, “Zozo my friend, have a great time.”
“If you give me a minute I can put the top up so it doesn’t mess your hair.”
“Absolutely not! The weather is perfect, and my hair is nothing but a glorified birds nest of curls anyway. No, please, keep it down. Since moving back to the Cape I almost feel too confined with the top up. Those first few days in the fall when it’s too cold for it to be down are the worst. In a couple of weeks I get used to it, but those first few times, boy, they’re tough. Maybe I should move to Florida, but no, we both know I’ll never do that. I mean, I could, but no.” She stopped then. Chuckling to herself and shaking her head she said, “Sorry, I’m babbling. Keep the top down please.”
Craig just laughed, “Don’t apologize, I’ve missed that.”
“You’ve missed what? My ability to chatter fast and furious about almost nothing?”
He smiled, “I have missed you. I’ve missed the energy you carry with you no matter where you go. You really don’t know, do you?”
She looked at him, hesitant to know the answer, but needing to know. “Know what?”
“You’re not normal, NO, wait, that sounds bad, but let me finish, I swear it’s a compliment.”
Laughing she said, “Okay”.
“You walk into a room and it’s like everything was in black and white before you got there, but then bam, it’s technocolor. You smile just brightens the room, your laugh is infectious. You and your “it is what it is” philosophy, you never seem to lose sight of the fact that no matter how hard you have it somebody else always has it more difficult. Hey, let’s face it, you’ve had your share of challenges. Hell, if I had to face a quarter of what you’ve gone through I’m pretty sure I would have jumped ship a long time ago.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. You don’t give up Craig, it’s not who you are. You take a challenge and see it as just that, something to overcome, something to conquer.”
“So do you Mariella”.
“Ha, no, I see it as something to survive, something to move past so I can start fresh after I lick my wounds.”
“Well, I see it differently. Anyway, what I was saying is, you really are remarkable in the way you’ve handled everything that life has thrown at you and I am in awe of you and the way you’ve raised those kids.”
“I didn’t do it alone, Jeff did his share especially when they were young, and I had Marge around. My sisters and brother had a hand in it also, and let’s not forget Liz. She’s been like a second mother to them all their lives.”
“See, that’s another thing. Giving credit where credit is due, although in this case I would argue that you get most of the credit on this one, but then we’d be two arguments in and we’ve only been on the road a few minutes, not the way I want to start our first date.”
“Okay, then you better prepare yourself for argument number 3…It’s not our first date!”
“It is in my eyes and in my heart. You will see, I’m a different person Mar. Give me a fair shot, please? Think of this as a first date, give me a clean slate. If by the end of the night you don’t agree then I will let you write your book in peace and I will not ask you out for another date. However, if you do agree, please be honest and let me know so I can plan the wedding.”
Her head snapped in his direction at the “w” word. The look of mischief in his eyes and that gorgeous smile that showed his dimples made her realize that he was teasing her. She reached out and gave a light smack to his arm which made them both roar with laughter as they approached the rotary.
“Weren’t you supposed to take that turn to head to Woods Hole?”
“We’re not going to Wood’s Hole, we’re not taking the ferry tonight.”
“Um, are you planning on telling me more, or is this some sort of elaborate kidnapping scheme?”
“Breathe, I’m not kidnapping you, we’re taking a friend’s boat tonight.”
“Oh, okay, then I will keep my mouth shut while you navigate us to our destination.”
“Ha, you won’t shut your mouth, but yes, I will do the navigating.”
Another light smack and the mood was once again light. Craig had music playing softly in the car. If she were being honest with herself she would have admitted that she was having a fantastic time so far. She enjoyed their playful sparing back and forth, she liked that he kept surprising her in little ways, like worrying that she would care if her hair got messed up with the top down, how he had James Taylor playing in the car, he knew that JT was her favorite. There was a book on the best sellers list a few years back that said something about not sweating the small stuff. That logic rang true for Mariella, but she also believed that it was important to take the time to do the small stuff for those you cared about. It was obvious to her that Craig paid attention to the small stuff too, and that was the reason for the smile on her face.
“What, what are you smiling about?”
“Huh? Oh, was I smiling?”
“Oh, that’s how it is? You’re going to get all shy on me all of a sudden? Come on, spill it, what was just going on underneath those beautiful curls that had you smiling?”
“I’m enjoying myself. I’m relaxed, riding down the road in a fancy convertible with a sexy man at the wheel, wind blowing in my hair, the sun ready to go to bed soon while the moon waits for its chance to shine. What isn’t there to smile about?”
“I certainly can’t argue with that logic. Sexy huh? Woo Hoo!”
Throwing her head back Mariella just closed her eyes and chuckled, yes, she was truly enjoying her night so far. Thinking back to when they had dated previously she didn’t remember ever feeling this relaxed with him. She had always felt as though she was fighting to keep his attention. He had wandering eyes back then, and yes, wandering hands to be honest. She always felt as though he was just with her until something better came along. Considering their age back then, she supposed it was not unusual for a boy his age to be that way, but back then she blamed herself. She assumed it was because she wasn’t pretty enough, sexy enough, or just plain ‘not enough’ for him to stay focused. Now that she was older she could see more clearly that it wasn’t her, no, it was him. It was his immaturity that caused him to roam. She made a mental note to make sure to talk to Victoria and to instill in her that she should never let a boy/man make her feel like she wasn’t enough. She is more than enough for any boy and if he didn’t appreciate that then he wasn’t worth her time.
“Okay, now you’re worrying me.”
Snapping herself back to the moment Mariella looked over at Craig, “What? Why?”
“You aren’t smiling anymore, no, you look stern, protective, ready for battle. What did I do now?”
Her eyes softened, “You were a dog.”
His mouth flew open and his eyes grew sad. “I know I was, I’ve apologized for that.”
This time she gently touched his sleeve, “I know you have, I was just reconciling in my head the old Craig with the new and it reminded me that I wanted to talk to Victoria about something.”
“About how all men are dogs?”
“No, not at all. I don’t generalize like that, and you know it. No, I just want to tell her that if a boy has wandering eyes or ever makes her feel like she’s not enough then she needs to realize that it’s his problem not hers.”
“I did that to you.”
Quietly Mariella responded, “Yes, you did, and it hurt me. I felt like I wasn’t pretty enough, or sexy enough, or smart enough for you. Like you needed something more that I couldn’t give you.”
“I really was a jerk. You were far more than I deserved. You wouldn’t agree to have sex with me back then, you said you wanted a commitment first and that scared me. All I wanted back then was to sew my wild oats, as they say. That was my problem back then. My upper brain knew that you were doing the right thing, my lower brain didn’t care. I was a twenty year old kid who was ruled by hormones and I hurt you deeply as a result. The worst part is, I knew I was doing it too. I knew that I wanted to be with you, but I also wanted to scratch that itch and you weren’t willing to let me, so I justified it to myself and got that itch scratched elsewhere. I am so very sorry.”
She could actually hear the pain in his voice as he said that. She believed him. Man, it felt good to get a sincere apology even if it was all these years later. Looking back she remembered it clearly, they had talked about it many times but she held her ground. She was proud of that decision, even though it cost her their relationship. Of course, she often doubted herself about it back then, but now that she was older and could see the big picture she knew she had done the right thing. Not just the proper thing, the right thing!
“Thank you Craig, I accept your apology. For what it’s worth, I do think you’ve changed. I also think I like the man you’ve become on the inside.”
He reached over, took her hand and brought it to his lips, “Thank you”.
Craig didn’t give her hand back, instead he held it as he drove. They both seemed to get lost in their own thoughts for the next few minutes. Both of them making peace with their past, and refocusing on tonight.
Craig parked the car at a private marina and put the top up while Mariella grabbed her purse and waited outside of the car.
“Here, take this” he handed her a cornflower blue sweatshirt three sizes too large for her with the Briarwood logo across the chest. “This time of year it can get chilly on the boat and I noticed you didn’t bring a sweater.”
There he goes again, thinking of every detail. “Thank you Craig, it never even occurred to me to grab one. Then again, I can’t take credit for anything tonight, Liz and Victoria are the ones who threw me together for tonight.”
He laughed, “What do you mean?”
“I was ‘in the zone’ as the kids put it. I was working this afternoon and lost track of time. According to Stephen and Victoria I refused all offers of food and water, at one point I even kicked them out of my office!”
“That’s hilarious, you’re still like that? I remember how intense you were when you were working on projects when we were younger. That’s pretty funny.”
“No, what was funny was how horrible I looked 45 minutes before you showed up! Sweats, no make up, lobster slippers, hair looking like some animal was living in it. It was bad.”
“Lobster slippers? Oh, this I’ve got to see.”
Together they walked towards the dock. Mariella was impressed by the size of some of these boats, they were huge. Following Craig she was surprised when he stopped before what she would describe as a yacht. The name on the boat was ‘The Other Woman”, something Mariella chuckled at. Living on the Cape she knew several men who loved their boats as much, if not more than their wives.
Craig put a hand out to help her board. “Craig, this is unreal, who’s boat is this?”
“Hold on, let me tell the Captain that we’re ready to shove off.”
Craig returned a few minutes later, “It’s my bosses boat, he heard me making the reservations the other day and told me to use the boat instead of the ferry. It’s ours for the night.”
“That’s crazy, it costs so much more to run this thing than it does for two ferry tickets. We should just go, I bet we can catch the ferry still.”
“Mariella, please stop thinking like a single mom for just a minute and let me do the huge romantic gesture and take you on a private yacht to dinner on Nantucket? Give a guy a break!”
Mariella giggled, “Okay, but only if you indulge me and agree to take a ton of pictures, I always have my camera in my bag! Hey, do you think the Captain will pose too?”
Yes, he loved her love of life. She really did roll with whatever life threw her way. After agreeing to take photos with her she ran off to find the Captain. It only took her a few minutes to win him over, next thing Craig knew the Captain was taking pictures of the two of them together and then posing for pictures with Mariella. By the time they docked on Nantucket Mariella had a new friend for life.
“Bye Captain Morgan, we’ll see you after dinner”, Mariella waved as they made their way down the pier.
“You do know that Captain Morgan is not his real name”.
“Yes, but back in high school my friend Cathy called every sea captain Captain Morgan, what can I say, old habits die hard.”
Holding hands they made their way to the restaurant.
The restaurant was nestled between two very old houses. The smell of garlic and oregano hung in the air and made Mariella realize just how hungry she was. Craig gave their name to the hostess and she said she would show them to their table.
They wound their way through the dining room, through the private party room in the back and out to a table set for two on a small patio out. It was the only table out there. The patio was decorated with tiki lamps and candles everywhere. It was breathtaking, it was beautiful and it was romantic.
He held out her chair for her. Once she was seated he threw the blue sweatshirt over the back of her chair and sat himself. “It’s not too much is it?”
“It’s gorgeous, but my word, how did you arrange all of this?”
“I called a friend. The details don’t matter.”
“Oh no you don’t, I’m a writer, the details are everything. I won’t push you on it now, but this really is truly beautiful Craig.”
“Good, and thank you, now what are you in the mood for?”
“You know what, I’ve noticed how well you handle all the little details, I’m going to put the menu down and let you order for me.”
“Okay, I appreciate the vote of confidence. How about to drink, would you like anything specific or would you like me to handle that as well?”
“Hmmmm, nope, nothing specific, go for it.”
When the waiter, Anthony arrived, Craig ordered them each a glass of wine to start. For dinner he ordered her the linguini with vegetables and shrimp in a light wine sauce. He knew she was a fan of cannolis so he had already ordered them two cannolis for dessert ahead of time when he made the reservations, this restaurant had a reputation for making the best ones around and he didn’t want to risk them running out before they got a chance to order them.
The conversation flowed easy between them. Even though they had known each other for over twenty years, there were several years in between where they were out of touch, therefore their conversation was peppered with memories of their past mixed in with stories of their years apart.
When Craig asked why her marriage had failed Mariella grew very quiet. He feared he had pushed too far when she suddenly looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘it just wasn’t meant to be”. She knew now why it had failed, but for the past five years she had thought that it was her. That somehow she had failed their marriage, but now she knew differently, now she knew it wasn’t her at all. Matter of fact, there was nothing she could have done that would have salvaged her marriage. She just wished the five years of doubting herself had been spared.
“Oh, okay, if you’d rather not talk about it, I am sorry that I pried.”
“No, Craig, you didn’t pry. You asked a question and you deserve an answer. It just so happens that this particular question is a tough one. This one question is one of the main struggles I have with writing this book. I can only tell the story from my point of view, and I’ve recently learned that my point of view is not even close to what the reality was. Does that make any sense?”
He chuckled, “Not really, but it could be me, I’m on my second glass of wine and maybe it’s hitting me faster than usual?”
“Before I got to the point of asking Jeff for the divorce I insisted we go to counseling, we went to three different marriage counselors. All of them said the same thing, all of them told Jeff that he wasn’t being totally honest and that he had things to work on. Each time that we got to this point Jeff would quit the therapist. He refused to go back. Feeling defeated I finally just asked him for the divorce, I mean if he wasn’t willing to work on the marriage how were we going to make it work, right?”
“Well, we have come a long way in the five years since that happened. I’ve learned a lot more about my marriage through divorce, and I’ve put it behind me, so now I’m at peace with it and I’m not sure that I want to tackle it in the book.”
“Mar… I’m not asking about the book. What’s going on? You’re hedging. What aren’t you telling me?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure I can talk about it. No, it’s not that I don’t trust you, or that I don’t want to tell you. I need to talk to Jeffrey first. I don’t need his permission… I guess I just want his blessing. It’s not my story to tell really.”
“Oh, I think I get it now, you don’t want to reveal anything that might hurt him… even though he has caused you years and years of pain, not to mention the kids.”
“Yes, and no. Yes, he most certainly did hurt me, beyond words. There are scars that may never heal, but that’s okay, I see them as reminders that I lived and loved. The kids and I are fine now, we’ve made it through and we’re doing just fine. Money’s tight, what else is new? We’re used to that. Who knows, maybe this book will finally make that part of my past too? I don’t know, I just don’t feel that it’s my place to tell his story, just as I feel it’s not his place to tell mine.”
“Since I don’t want to spend the night discussing Jeffrey and more importantly, I don’t want to spend the night arguing with you, I’m going to drop it for now. As your ‘boss’ we will discuss this further, as your date I’ll just graciously smile and say, “would you like another glass of wine?”
“Thank you, and yes please, I’m not driving.”
Just then Anthony delivered their entrees and the mood was once again switched to a more light hearted one. The food was prepared to perfection and they both enjoyed each and every bite. Mariella was unable to finish the rest of her dinner, the portions were huge, so she shared the remains with Craig.
“I am so stuffed, but that was absolutely fabulous Craig, thank you.”
“We’re not done yet, there’s still dessert ahead.”
“Oh no there isn’t! I couldn’t fit another bite. Besides, when I went to the ladies room earlier I heard the staff talking about how they had already run out of cannolis and that’s my favorite. It must not be meant to be.”
Anthony returned to the table with their cappuccinos and two cannolis. “Wait, Anthony, I thought you guys ran out of cannolis? I heard you guys talking about it when I went to the ladies room earlier.”
“Mr. Michaels ordered these in advance so they were already put aside for you. Bon appétit”.
Mariella just stared at Craig. “What? I knew you liked them, so I ordered them when I made the reservations. Word on the street is they’re pretty good so I wanted to make sure we tried them.”
“Pretty good, are you kidding me? They’re the most talked about on the Cape. Celebrities order these and have them delivered all over the world, these things are a piece of art.”
“Oh, then maybe we should frame them and not eat them.”
“Very funny, give me a fork”
“Nope, you said you couldn’t fit another bite, these are both mine.”
“Fork, now Mr. Michaels or it’s going to get ugly out here on the patio.”
Together they laughed and devoured their cannolis. They were everything they had heard about and much more.
Once they finished their meal they decided to walk down to the beach and take the shore route back to the yacht. The temperature had dropped and there was a breeze coming off the water, so Mariella slipped the sweatshirt on over her dress. She laughed and said, ‘So much for Liz and Vic’s hard work, I’m back to being a bum in a sweatshirt rather than glamorous in the dress.”
He stood before her, his hand on her chin as he lifted it to force her to meet his eyes. “You look beautiful, no, don’t look away, I mean it.”
She raised her eyes to his. Her mouth twitched a little as she tried to smile at him.
“Mariella, I wish you could see you as others do, as I do. You just have no idea.”
“I see the real me Craig, I see a mom with too many pounds, hair out of control and a tight budget.”
“I see a beautiful woman with a body that has given birth to two amazing kids, I see a talented woman who doesn’t know her value or worth. I see a loving daughter who worries about her mother and stays in constant contact with her no matter how hectic life gets. I see a devoted friend who would stop at nothing to see her friends happy. I see a woman who deserves to be loved, adored, and cherished. And I know it will happen. If you can’t find it in your heart to let me be the one, even though I arranged to have them put cannolis aside, well, then you need to open your heart enough to let someone else in.”
Mariella chuckled, “So, the truth is out, the cannolis are a bribe?”
His smile was sweet, but his eyes were intense, “I would never bribe you Mariella.”
“I know Craig, I’m teasing.”
“I know… now stop teasing me and kiss me instead.”
She felt the heat in her cheeks as she leaned in to meet his lips. Past met present as their lips became reacquainted. His arms wrapped around her, pulling her closer still. Their kiss was natural, as if they had been kissing each other for years, yet it was new and exciting. Sure, they had kissed twenty something years earlier, but never had they kissed like this. It tasted like more.
Just as Mariella was losing herself in the kiss Craig pulled away with a groan. “We should get back to the yacht. I promised myself that I’d behave tonight, and I plan to keep my promise. Let’s go hot lips, give me those shoes, I’ll carry them so you can go barefoot like you prefer.”
What? That’s it, He’s just going to stop? “Um, sure, here.”
He grabbed her hand and they started walking the beach together. “Just so there is no misconception, the only reason, and I mean the ONLY reason I stopped back there is because of two things, the first being the promise I made to myself, the second being the promise that I made to you.”
“I promised you I’d take tonight as one date, if you want it to go further, then it’s your call, but I would respect your decision either way. If I kept kissing you back there I’m not so sure I would have been able to stop myself if you asked me to stop, and it’s important to me that you know I’m respecting you and your wishes. I’m not some hormonal teenager looking to scratch an itch. No, if we’re going to go any further with this it’s your call, not mine.”
He pulled her hand to his mouth again and placed another kiss on the back of it, then he slowly turned her hand over and kissed her palm as well. He may not have known it, but that kiss sent chills up her spine.
“Thank you Craig, I really do believe you have changed. As for seeing you again…”
“No, don’t tell me now, let’s just face the night one moment at a time. There’s Captain Morgan, he looks like he’s ready to go.” He held her hand the rest of the way to the boat and helped her on board. It was windy during the ride back, they stood staring out over the water, his arm draped around her, she snuggled into the sweatshirt.
“Remind me to give you back this sweatshirt when we get in the car.”
“No, I don’t think so, I like the way it matches your eyes, why don’t you keep it. Besides I like the idea of you wrapping yourself in something of mine when I’m not there to hold you.”
Mar could almost hear Liz yelp in glee. One glimpse of Mar in the sweatshirt and Liz would be burning the apricot one for sure! Mariella giggled at the image.
The drive from the marina back to her house was a quiet one. They both seemed lost in their own thoughts. When Mariella glanced over at Craig she saw him smiling to himself about whatever thought was crossing his mind. It took several seconds before he felt her gazing at him. He turned to her, “What are you looking at?”
“I’m just curious, what were you just thinking about?”
“Huh? When?” If she didn’t know better she would swear he was blushing.
“Two minutes ago, you had this shy smile on your face and you looked lost in thought.”
“Making fun of me?”
“No, not at all, to be honest, it was a very sexy smile and I want to know what caused it.”
“Craig, you know me, honesty is my only policy.”
“You, me, us. All of it. I was thinking about how new it is to kiss you. I mean, it’s not new, we kissed before, but this just feels different. Maybe it’s because we’re older and more mature. Maybe it’s because we appreciate a good kiss now more than we used to. I don’t know, but I plan to try for another one when we get to your house… what are my chances?”
She laughed at that. “Sorry, can’t tell you. We agreed to take this night one moment at a time, can’t reveal too much too soon. You’ll just have to take your chances and see.”
“So you’re not going to tell me?”
He pulled the car over to the side of the road.
“What are you doing?”
“Pushing my luck”. With that he leaned over and locked eyes with Mariella. “May I?”
She swallowed and softly replied, “yes”.
His eyes never left hers as he leaned in the rest of the way and kissed her. It was a slow tender kiss that deepened and grew in intensity until he slowly pulled away. “Sorry, I meant to make that a fun little kiss as a joke, but you just … well, anyway, I’m sorry.”
Mar was nibbling on her lower lip as she giggled to him, “Seriously, you’re going to kiss me like that and then apologize? No, no apology necessary.”
Craig was instantly relieved. He was worried that she would think he was just reverting back to old ways and trying to get more out of her than she was willing to give. “Well, I have to admit, it was a half hearted apology anyway. That kiss was amazing.”
“Mmm, you always were a great kisser Craig, but you’re right, it seems different when we kiss now. I don’t know why either, but whatever it is, I like it too.”
He started the car back up and threw it into gear. He was smiling again as he reached for her hand and held it as he drove. “Gee, I might have to just randomly pull over every couple of miles for the rest of the ride. It might take us a couple of days to get back to your house, would you have a problem with that?”
That twinkle was back in his eye again so she knew he was kidding. “Just stay on task Mr. Michaels, I’ve got those two kids at home and you know Liz will be sitting in the darkness of her back porch waiting for your car to drive away so she can interrogate me.”
“Would she really do that?”
“Count on it!”
“That’s so nice.”
Mariella cracked up, ‘What, that I have a friend who stalks me after dates?”
“That you have a friend who cares so much about you that she makes herself available for you at all hours.”
“Liz is the best. We’ve always been there for each other. We haven’t always gotten along, no, we’ve had our share of disagreements and disappointments along the way, but we’ve always been there for each other regardless of whether we were speaking to each other at the time or not. When my dad died, she was there, when she went through her groupie stage and followed the Beach Boys around the country I was the one who wired her money when she used all of hers to bribe the stage manager to get her on stage with Mike Love. This was the summer that John Stamos was drumming for them, do you remember hearing about that?”
Craig’s mouth was hanging open, “Wait, she literally did that? She followed them around the country?”
“Well, technically it was across 15 states, she ran out of cash and her parents threatened to cut her off if she didn’t come home right then. She was disappointed, but she was also on a personal high for at least three months after returning. She had managed to convince herself that Mike Love was her father and that John Stamos was going to marry her.”
“Whoa, she dated John Stamos? Isn’t he the guy from that show … “
“Yes, that’s him. No, she didn’t date him. I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t even know her name, but still, Liz was convinced that he was in love with her. She had the time of her life.” “Wait, why am I telling you all of this? Oh right, to prove to you that we’re always there for each other.”
“You don’t have to prove anything to me, it’s obvious to anyone that sees the two of you. You’ve got something special there and it shows.”
She was wrong, Liz wasn’t waiting in the darkness of her own back porch when they got home. No, instead she was sitting in Mariella’s living room curled up in the chair with a huge mug of steaming tea in her hands. “Hi kids, have a nice date?”
Craig answered her first, “Matter of fact, we did. Thanks for holding down the fort while we were out.”
“This fort is self sufficient. The kids don’t need me at all, but don’t tell them that. I like that they think they do. By the way, they had a great time at the bonfire tonight, but I think something is up with Stephen and Emily. He started to talk to me about it, but then she texted him and he went back into his man cave and closed the door. Haven’t seen him since.”
“Oh, they were having trouble a few weeks back around the time of the party. I thought they were past it.”
“Well, here’s what he told me… something about Emily was mad at him a while back because that girl Stef was texting him, so he told Stef that she had to stop. Then he found out tonight that not only was Emily talking to some other boy, but apparently she went to the movies with this dude last night? I don’t how he found out or anything like that, that’s when she started texting him again.”
Craig had to suppress a smile, “Ahh, the trials and tribulations of young love. It’s so minor when you look back on it yet feels earth shattering when you’re living through it.”
They all chuckled, “It’s true, but something tells me he’s not all that broke up about it.”
Mariella raised an eyebrow, “Oh, really, why?”
“Well, Mr. Dawson’s granddaughter Grace was at the bonfire tonight. She is visiting her grandfather for the summer and when Mr. D saw Christopher setting up the firepit today they got talking and Chris suggested that she join the kids tonight. She did, and well, let’s just say that there’s a mutual attraction going on there.”
Mariella gave a slight groan. “Young love is the stuff that gives us old folks ulcers!”
“Hey, speak for yourself, I’m not old.” Craig tried to look insulted.
“Craig, I hate to break it to you, you’re older than me.”
“Yeah, okay, by six months, all I know is I’m not an old folk, and I don’t plan to be for a long time.”
They all laughed.
“Well, ladies, on that note, I need to hit the road so I can keep up on my beauty sleep so I look as young as I feel.” He then said his goodbyes to Liz before Mariella walked him to the car.
“Thank you for tonight Craig, I really had a lovely time.”
“No, Mariella, thank you. Thank you for giving me a second chance.”
“I had a great time, Craig. You are full of surprises, the yacht, the table at the restaurant, all of it.”
“It was nothing, yet it was everything when I saw the look on your face. It was all just details, but I’m glad you liked those details.”
“I did, and I do. You thought of everything, thank you. And Craig?”
“I’d like to date you again.”
He didn’t react right away. Instead he just closed the gap between them. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the ground, twirling her around. “YES!” Finally he settled her back on the ground and waited for her giggles to stop. “Mariella Chase I’m going to kiss you again, are you okay with that?”
In response she reached up and pulled his lips to hers. Yes, she liked the new Craig Michaels, she liked him indeed.
He could have kissed her forever, but the scrape of a chair against the floor just inside the front door reminded him that Liz was waiting inside for the scoop on their date. “I should go so you can get inside to Liz”.
He was right. “Okay, well, I guess I will talk to you Monday?”
“No Mariella, Monday is for work, you’ll talk to me tomorrow. I will give you a call and see what you guys are up to. If you’re not too busy maybe we can all go on a picnic or something.”
“I should write” she said quietly.
He wanted to fight her on this, but wouldn’t push her right now, even though he knew that verbal sparring with her a few rounds would be fun for both of them. “Well, why don’t we talk in the morning.”
Why did he have to go plant that idea in her head, now she didn’t want to write tomorrow, she wanted to go on a picnic or adventure with him. No, she needed to stand her ground on this one. Or did she.
“Okay, we’ll talk in the morning. Thank you again Craig.”
She was softening on this, he could tell. “You’re welcome Mariella, I will talk to you in the morning. Good night.”
“Good night, drive safe.”
She watched him drive away until she could no longer see his taillights, then she went back through the screen door to find Liz waiting with a steaming mug of tea in her hands for Mariella.
“Okay, first go ditch the dress then come back and spill the beans. I want details, and I mean all of them. You can, and you will start with the story behind that sweathshirt.”
Mariella giggled as she ran to her room to ‘ditch the dress’ and put on her comfy capris then she threw Craig’s sweatshirt back on as well.
“Okay, so now that I’m comfy again, where do I begin? Do you still want me to start with the sweatshirt, or do you want chronological order?”
“I’m loving the sweatshirt, want the details on it, but no, start from the very beginning and only leave out the mushy stuff. Oh who am I kidding, I want it all, mushy stuff too.”
They spent the next hour going over every detail of her night. Mariella left nothing out.
“The first week of being a single Mom was full of life lessons that I dismissed as minor incidents. Things broke, I had to figure out who to call to get them repaired, the life lesson in this was that in order to get things repaired in a timely manner and done correctly the first time you should not just call the first number in the yellow pages. No, when needing repairs it is important to ask around and get references, even if it means taking an extra day to make it happen. The moving company broke a box of china; this required a phone call to the owner of the company to try to get compensation. This was a life lesson because I learned that being an emotional female when dealing with business matters is a hindrance, these people want to deal with facts not crazy crying females. I learned that, boxes do not unpack themselves, and that having the bed to yourself is wonderful, but also very lonely.”
“Ugh, this is stupid, who wants to read this drivel?” Mar was yelling at her laptop again, Stephen could hear her as he walked towards her office.
“Mom, time for a break, you’re doing it again, you’re second guessing yourself.”
“No, I should just scrap the whole project, this is nuts.”
“No Mom, sorry, you’re wrong on this one. Come on, come make fun of Vic with me, she’s laying out on the hammock with cucumbers on her eyes and beer in her hair, something about home remedy beauty products or something.”
Mariella couldn’t suppress her giggle at the image of her daughter. “You know your sister, always willing to try new things. Just don’t take any pictures of her, she will kill you.”
“Oops, too late, already did.”
“Oh Stephen, she’ll kill you.”
“Hey, it’s not like I uploaded them to facebook… yet”.
She just shook her head and laughed at her son. They were constantly teasing each other and pushing each other’s buttons. “What am I going to do with the two of you?”
“Come take a break and hit the showers, Mr. Michaels will be here in an hour anyway.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
Stephen rolled his eyes. “Mom, tell me you didn’t zone out on me. I came in here two hours ago and told you that Mr. Michaels was on the phone, he wanted to know if we were up for taking that picnic that he talked to you about. You told me yes, one o’clock would be fine and then you kicked me out again.”
Mariella groaned. She had no memory of that conversation with her son, yet she knew he wouldn’t lie about it. “What else did I agree to?”
Stephen laughed, “Nothing, just a picnic lunch. Besides, I think it’s a good idea for you and Mr. Michaels to have some time to talk, maybe he can help you with your current stumbling block in the book.”
“It’s not really a block, honey, it’s more like a giant black hole. I feel like other people will be bored with my story, and bored people do not recommend books, and books that do not get recommended do not sell, and that means the author who wrote that book will not get another deal, ever.”
“Okay slow down, breathe. They wouldn’t have given you a deal if they thought your story was boring. You just need a break, maybe some food and sun will refresh you and then you can come back here and type away on the keys until you break that keyboard too!”
She threw a paperclip at her son and decided he was right. If she sat here another hour she would just rewrite that paragraph over and over again. She needed to walk away.
“Okay, I’m jumping in the shower, I better get your sister moving too.”
“Wait, let me snap one more picture first.”
“OUT, don’t you dare snap any more pictures or she’ll snap you!”
“Kill joy”, he said over his shoulder.
“Brat”, she replied.
They went their separate ways, both laughing as they did.
Mariella looked out the bathroom window and found her daughter laying in the hammock looking exactly as Stephen had described her. “Vic, you might want to get a move on, Mr. Michaels is coming in an hour and I’m guessing you won’t want him to see you like that.”
“Okay, I’m just about done anyway, I need five more minutes in the sun for my hair, then I can come in and shower it off.”
“Don’t forget to hose off the hammock so you get all the beer out, please or we’ll have a horrible problem with bees. I’m jumping in the shower now, as soon as I come out you can jump in.”
“That works.” With that Victoria laid back on the hammock, but instead of placing the cucumbers back on her eyes she decided to nibble on them instead.
“Craig, I’m serious, it’s stupid, nobody wants to read this stuff, nobody cares that the appliance repair guy connected my garbage disposal the wrong way and the garbage flew out of it instead of being sucked into it.”
“Mariella, you have to trust me on it. You are wrong. Women will be able to relate to you, they will feel your pain, your frustration and your joy. Hearing you describe your debacle with the appliance guy will have them laughing, your story about the time the electric company cut off your electricity and had you playing games with the kids by candlelight will have them in tears as they feel the pain that comes across in your words.”
She thought about what he was saying. She didn’t want to argue with him on this, a part of her knew he was right. Her mother and sisters had said the same thing. Most women have not experienced all of the things that Mariella had, but they would each find one story or antidote to relate to. If all she did was touch one of them wasn’t it worth it in the end?
“I’m glad you insisted that I come out today. I think you’re right, I think I needed to step away from it for a while.”
“I’m glad you came. When Stephen told me that you were ‘in the zone’ I knew it was dangerous to send him in to talk to you about the picnic, but I’m glad he was willing to cross the firing line to ask you. He’s a brave kid.”
Mariella laughed, they always cracked jokes about her when she was in the zone. It’s true, when she was writing she would tune out the rest of the world. She often lost hours, and on occasionally she would lose entire days when writing. Sometimes the words would just flow from her finger tips and she would have no concept of day and time. Luckily she didn’t start writing until the kids were older; if she had written like this when the kids were smaller there is a very good chance that she would have been accused of neglect, no matter how unintentional.
“Yes, he is brave, I know I can be difficult when I’m writing.”
“From what I’m told you’re more scary than difficult. I can’t imagine you ever kicking your kids out of a room in a normal frame of mind, yet I’m told that it’s a regular occurrence for you to kick them out of your office when you’re writing.”
“Yeah, guilty as charged. I don’t even know that I’m doing it, but apparently I do. I hate that part. I guess I just get so entrenched in what I’m doing that I lose sight of everything else. I feel like a horrible mother afterwards.”
He chuckled, ‘Mariella, you could never be a horrible mother. Your kids are very well balanced, they adore you, and they adore each other.”
“Yeah, when they’re not tormenting each other.”
“That’s all part of it, they can’t be all mushy and lovey to each other, so they find other ways.”
“Hmmm perhaps a handshake would be another option?”
Craig laughed, “They’re great kids Mar, you can tell within minutes of meeting them that you did an amazing job with them. I know plenty of teenagers that are riddled with angst and turmoil. Your kids have been through a lot yet come across as if Doctor Spock had raised them himself.”
“Just call me Doc”.
“Go ahead, laugh, but deep down you know I’m right.”
“You are right, they’re great kids. I don’t know how I got so lucky.”
Craig reached over and lifted her chin to make sure he had her attention, “That’s not luck Mar, that’s years of hard work, love, attention and discipline. They’re the ones that got lucky by getting you as a parent.”
She waited for him to lean in and kiss her, but he didn’t. He smiled and pulled back. Confusion showed on her face and Craig laughed. “Your son and daughter have stopped throwing the frisbee and are watching us intently, if I kissed you now they’d have full view and might not appreciate it.”
Mariella laughed, “You don’t know my kids very well. Chances are good they’d let out a yell and start clapping.”
That was all the encouragement Craig needed. He leaned back in and took her face in his hands as he kissed, normally he wouldn’t appreciate having an audience, but when they kids started yelling, “Go Mom!” He knew that it was okay.
Mariella broke away from the kiss because she couldn’t fight the laughter. “Okay you two, show is over.”
Victoria ran over, ‘No, no, don’t stop on our account, we can go for a walk over to the fountain or something, right Stephen?”
“Yeah, Vic and I were just talking about taking a walk, you know what a huge fountain fan I am.”
“Oh stop, both of you, brats! Come on, let’s eat.”
Craig just laughed while he watched them interact. She had a really amazing relationship with her kids, he knew plenty of women who would kill to have this type of rapport with their children, she may not know it, but she had a pot of gold with these kids.
For the next hour they sat on a blanket in the middle of the park eating, drinking iced tea, playing games and enjoying the beautiful day. If Victoria didn’t have to be at work for 5 they would have stayed even longer.
“I’m really sorry to be the party pooper guys, but I have to get home to get ready for work.”
Craig was the first to respond, “Don’t be sorry Vic, we had a fantastic afternoon. If we leave now you’ll have plenty of time to get ready for work and your mother can get home and bang out the chapter that she’s been formulating for the past few minutes.”
The look on Mariella’s face couldn’t be called anything other than shock. “How did you know?”
“Mom, if you were in a foreign movie without subtitles the audience would still know what was going on in your head just by watching your face. You started tuning us out once Stephen started going on and on about how sweet and kind Grace is. Who can blame you? He’s done nothing but gush about her since the bonfire.”
“Shut up Vic, I have not.” He was his mother’s son though, his emotions showed clearly on his face as well, so he couldn’t help it when the smile reached his lips again. “Okay, maybe I have. What’s wrong with me, Emily and I have been broken up for less than a day and I’m already talking about another girl!”
Craig laughed, “It’s called being fifteen, enjoy it, it’s not always so easy to get over one girl and find another that touches your heart.” He was talking to Stephen, but looking at Mariella so deeply that she felt like he was speaking only to her, “When you get older and find a woman that truly touches your heart and worms her way into your every thought, that’s when you know you are a lucky man.” He looked away from Mariella and added, ‘Then again, when that happens it’s not as easy to bounce back, so you better hope she feels the same way about you. No worries, my friend, you have plenty of years before that happens, for now enjoy your ability to bounce back and move forward!”
Victoria grabbed the Frisbee and her sweatshirt and helped her mother to stand up. Once they started walking to the car she wrapped her arm around her mother and steered her away from the boys. “Mom, you have to marry him, seriously he has to be the most romantic man on the planet.”
“Great advice Vic, should I wait until the fourth date for that, or throw caution to the wind and just marry him on date number three?”
Victoria laughed, “I didn’t mean NOW, I meant down the road. You know, give it time, see if you’re compatible, I don’t know, say December?”
Mariella threw her head back and laughed.
Craig watched their conversation play out and loved the way mother and daughter interacted. From the back they looked like sisters, best friends. From the front they looked like mother and daughter, best friends.
Mariella was sitting with her toes playing in the sand watching the sunset and contemplating how to tackle the next chapter. Debating whether it was necessary or not to include the details her marriage, more importantly, her divorce in the book. On the one hand it would explain so much to her readers, but on the other hand it was Jeffrey’s story to tell, not hers. She sat there debating with herself for an hour before finally deciding that it was time to call Jeffrey and talk to him directly about this.
“Hi Jeffrey, are you busy?”
“Actually I just sat down with a glass of wine, what’s up? Everything okay with the kids?”
“Yes, they’re fine. Listen, if you have time, I’d like to get together with you and discuss something.” The next few seconds were met with silence.
“Is this about your book?”
“You know about my book?”
Jeffrey laughed, “Have you met our kids? They’re your biggest fans and they couldn’t wait to tell me the good news. I’m happy for you, it’s a great opportunity.”
“Yes, it really is.”
“Mar, did you always want to write? I hate to admit this, but I honestly didn’t know you liked writing. Was I that out of it, did I really space out and ignore you that badly?”
“No Jeffrey, I didn’t write when we were together, it wasn’t really even a secret ambition. I mean, I always wrote letters to the kids, stories for their baby books, things like that. But no, I didn’t have any aspirations of being a famous writer.”
“Okay, so is it about the book?”
“Yes, are you willing to sit down and talk to me, I need to discuss something with you.”
“Go ahead Mar, tell the story.”
“Huh? Tell what story.”
“The story of us, that’s what you’re going to ask me, isn’t it?”
“Well, er, yes, but wouldn’t you rather talk this out?”
“Mariella, listen to me, I’m at peace with it. I know what role I played in the failure of our marriage. I know that you’ll be fair and not verbally attack me. You’re honest Mar, and I trust you to tell our story.”
“But… well, how much of it can I tell?”
“All of it Mar, go for it. I’m fine with it. I’ve made peace with my past, even the ugly parts. I won’t restrict you on anything you want to write about. All I ask is that you change the names to protect the innocent.” He laughed as he said this, mimicking a line from an old television program.
“Jeffrey, are you sure you’re okay with this? I can try to write the book around it if you’re not comfortable with it.”
“Mariella, they asked you to write your story, I am a part of that story, for better or for worse. Write your story. I can handle whatever comes of it.”
“But, your father and mother… what about them?”
“They’ll be fine, we’ve talked about it. They’re thrilled for you and they say they’re proud of me so go for it.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say you’ll be kind, let me have more hair in your story than I do now.”
They both laughed.
“Seriously Mariella, write it all. I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. I know I wasn’t the easiest man to live with.”
“Thank you Jeff, I really didn’t know how you’d react to this. I never imagined you’d give me free reign, I promise you, I’ll be gentle.”
“Best of luck Mariella, save me a copy.”
“Signed sealed and delivered Jeff, thanks again.”
She hung up the phone and stood there with her hand still on the receiver for several minutes. Not only did Jeff give her permission to write about their divorce, he gave her his blessing. Wow, he really had come full circle.
Feeling inspired she raced to her office and put fingers to keyboard as the thoughts flowed freely. This was going to be far easier than she thought.
The logs were in place, the bag of marshmallows sitting at the ready, the long log benches were arranged around the pit to allow for maximum seating. There would be more than the usual suspects invited to tonights chat and chew. Mariella was very nervous, tonight was the night she was going to let her inner circle preview a couple of chapters.
Liz was the first to arrive, walking up from the beach carrying a pitcher of margaritas. “Hey my friend, doctor’s orders, sit and swig one back with me.”
“Oh Liz, I can’t,”
“I said sit!” Just the way she looked at Mariella sent a clear message, this was not up for discussion.
“Oh, okay, fine, but just one.”
“Girl friend, I say this with love, you need the entire pitcher. You’re wound tighter than a drum. Do you realize you reminded me about tonight six times on the phone today? Six times, and newsflash, I woke up knowing what today was and counting the minutes until I could safely come over here and ply you with booze to calm you down. As if I needed a reminder?”
Mariella laughed. “I should have known.”
“You’re right, you should have. I feel like I’ve given birth to this book too. It’s our baby. Can I have my copy now?”
Mariella smiled, “Ha ha, funny. You’ll get your chapters when everyone else does. I have to do this in one full swoop or I’ll chicken out and just start rewriting the entire thing.”
“Everyone else? Who exactly did you invite? And what’s this about chapters? You’re only giving us chapters? How many chapters? What chapters? Am I in them? Are there juicy parts?”
“Marge, Vic, Stephen, Christopher, of course and wait, I’m leaving someone out. Yes, you have three chapters to read. The book isn’t finished, I’m just giving you guys these three chapters because I need feedback.”
“Fine, I’ll take it. If I grumble or grovel will it get me bonus chapters?”
“You know, you should be nice or I’ll sic Marge on you.”
Mariella groaned in response.
“Kidding, just kidding. I’ll happily take whatever you’re willing to share. Hey, since I’m being so agreeable maybe you could give me my chapters now before everyone else gets here so I can help you fight them off when they start begging for more. You know, a united front, and all that.”
“Nice try, but no. Here, help me arrange these logs around the fire pit, I’m not sure I like this set up.”
“Mar, they’re logs, they’re arranged around the fire, just leave them be. Why don’t you go inside and whip up another blender of frozen margaritas for the adults and I will make the lemonade for the kids? Oh, on second thought, you go handle the drinks and I will handle this.”
“You’ll handle what?”
“Don’t look now but Jeffrey just pulled up, you go inside and I’ll make up some story about how you are sick and can’t talk to him.”
“No, I invited him.”
Liz raised an eyebrow, “Oh, this is getting good. Can you tell me what possessed you to have your ex here or are you going to let my imagination run wild?”
“He’s here because one of the chapters you’re reading tonight is about my marriage and my divorce, I wanted him to read it too.”
“Oh, this is good.” “Hello Jeffrey, lovely to see you”.
“Elizabeth, you’re still as beautiful and full of crap as you’ve always been”, with that he leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Truth be known they always liked each other, they just teased each other at every opportunity.
“Okay, I’m going in to whip up some kick butt margaritas, don’t start reading without me.” She waved as she left the two of them alone.
“Thanks for coming Jeff”.
“I wouldn’t miss it Mar, I’m really looking forward to the sneak peek at the book everyone is talking about.”
“Not everyone, just the kids.”
“No Mar, I mean everyone. My parents, your mother, the kids, Brad, everyone.”
“Speaking of Brad, where is he? I thought you’d bring him with you.”
“No, he is out to dinner with his parents tonight, besides, he felt that it would be too stressful for you to have him here tonight.”
“Jeff, I wouldn’t have invited him if I didn’t think I could handle him being here.”
“I know, but he insisted that it would be too much. Its fine, I promised him that if you agreed I would bring home the chapters to him so he could read them too. Would that be okay?”
“That’s perfectly fine, just remind me if I get lost in the moment and forget.”
The sound of tires on the driveway distracted them from their conversation. Everyone else seemed to arrive within minutes. Once they were all there Mariella settled them around the fire and took a sip of her margarita for courage. “Thanks everyone for being here tonight, I really appreciate it. As you know, writing this book is a lot like giving birth for me. It’s a labor of love, it’s been an emotional roller coaster for me, and I’m still not done. The reason I’ve asked you all here is because I have selected a few chapters that were the most difficult for me to write thus far, and I really need you to read and absorb them and then give me honest critical feedback. I’m not looking for a pat on the back, I’m looking for you to tell me what flows, what does not, what makes sense and what is just gibberish. I want you to read it as if you didn’t know me, really read it for content. Please, take your time reading it; I will be over in the hammock watching the sunset while you do.”
Marge gladly took her chapter and whispered to Mariella, “Go ahead honey, but take another margarita with you because no matter how calm your words are it’s obvious that you’re a nervous wreck. Go kick one back and we’ll give a yell when we’re done.”
Mariella gave her mother a hug and never one to disobey her mother, walked right back over to the pitcher and poured herself another margarita.
The margaritas were starting to have the desired effect as Mariella sat there nervously biting her lip and smoothing away invisible wrinkles in her jeans. She was pacing back and forth on the edge of the water, not wanting to rush them as they read, yet wishing they’d just hurry up! Between the margaritas and the stress of people reading her chapters Mariella managed to miss seeing the man sitting on the rock to her right. She almost jumped in the water when she heard a familiar voice quietly say, “Hello Gorgeous”.
Startled she turned around, “Craig! What are you doing here?”
“You told me that you were having the preview tonight and I figured you’d be out here pacing in the sand waiting for your reviews.” He walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “They’re going to love it, you can stop biting your lip now.”
She laughed nervously. Did he really smell so intoxicating, or was it the margarita playing with her senses? Either way his embrace was just what she needed. She felt as though she was exhaling for the first time in ages. Wrapped in his arms she felt like she could breathe again, like maybe he was right, maybe they would like what she wrote, or at the very least, maybe they wouldn’t hate it. She pulled back to look him in the eyes, “Thank you for being so thoughtful. I almost called you to ask you to be here, but I didn’t know if I should or not.”
“Because I didn’t know if it was appropriate. I didn’t know if it was breaking any kind of rules for me to have them preview the chapters, I didn’t know if you would get in trouble if you were a part of all of it, and mostly…”
“I didn’t know if I wanted you here as my publisher, or just to hold my hand.”
Craig pushed back the piece of hair that had fallen over her eyes. For a moment it looked as though she was trying to hide behind that strand of hair. “As your publisher I will tell you, what you’re doing is perfectly normal, as long as none of the people reading it will smuggle a copy out of here and release it to the press before we’re ready for it to be released, and none of them would do that to you.”
“And, as the one who gets to hold your hand, it is my honor. It would have been wonderful to get a call asking me to come hold your hand, but it’s even better hearing you sigh when I wrapped my arms around you a moment ago and knowing that you want me here to support you.” With that he tipped her chin up to him, smiled into her eyes and brought his lips down to hers. He may have been there to bring her peace, but in reality holding her in his arms was more than that to him, it was like coming home.
Slowly he pulled away from their kiss, not wanting to, but knowing that this was not the time or the place to get intimate. They walked hand in hand for a few minutes, she needed to be in motion and he needed to be with her, so it just seemed to work for them. The sound of voices drifted down to the beach and he stopped, kissed Mariella’s hand and said, “Come on kid, it’s showtime.”
She reached up and grabbed his face, pulling his mouth back to hers for one last kiss before retracing their steps to the fire pit where her critics awaited. “Thanks, I needed that.”
He chuckled, ‘It was my pleasure, Ma’am… need more?”
She smiled, “I sure do, but not until I face the music, come with me?”
“Try and stop me.” He grabbed her hand again and off they went.
It seemed they had all finished reading. Everyone had fresh beverages in their hands and they were chattering, that is, until they saw Mariella and Craig walking towards them. Marge and Liz exchanged knowing glances, Victoria ran over to greet Craig while he and Stephen exchanged some sort of ‘pound flesh’ handshake or whatever it is that guys do nowadays when they say hello. Craig introduced himself to Christopher and then finally to Jeffrey, it felt as though Jeff was sizing him up. That’s okay though, he was doing the same to Jeff. To Mariella it looked like two dogs circling each other and she had to fight the urge to giggle out loud at how ridiculous they both looked.
Taking this opportunity to regain control of her audience and get them focused on the task at hand, Mariella added another log to the fire (which wasn’t needed yet, but had the desired effect as they all watched the flames dance as they seemed to lick the fresh log). “Okay, I take it you’ve all finished the chapters that I gave you, yes?”
“Yes”, they all replied.
“Okay, I need you all to be honest with me, but I want to hear what each and every one of you thinks about what you’ve read. I know your initial gut reaction is to protect me, I don’t need protection on this, I need honesty. Tell me what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you didn’t understand… all of it. Who wants to go first?”
Naturally Victoria jumped at the chance to go first, “Me, I’ll go, I want more, I loved it. It’s brilliant, well, okay, except for the part where you call me a freak and tell the entire world that I make lists each night before going to bed so that I don’t forget anything in the morning.”
Stephen piped up, “Is it a lie?”
“Well, no, but …”
“Then suck it up sis, Mom doesn’t lie, she speaks the truth. It’s not like she told the world that you sucked your thumb until you were five and only stopped sucking it because some lady offered you baseball trading cards if you did.”
They all laughed, “Well, it’s true, that’s what happened. You gave it up just become some random lady offered you trading cards!” Stephen laughed in spite of himself.
Mariella looked guardedly at her mother, “Mom? What’d you think?”
Marge took a moment to find the right words. “Honey, as your mother you know that I love everything you do.”
Mariella rolled her eyes.
“Now don’t go rolling your eyes at me Missy, I am not done! As I was saying, as your mother I love everything that you do, but this is different.”
“This story that you’ve written, the way you talk about our lives, about how you were raised. It’s just…”
“I’m sorry Mom, I wrote it as I saw it.”
“Don’t be sorry honey, and don’t interrupt, I raised you with better manners! What I was saying is; what you’ve written and how you’ve written it is just beautiful. You brought it all to life, you brought me back to the place and time and it was like I was living it all again. It wasn’t memories in black and white, no, it was memories brought to life with colors and smells. It was wonderful, and not just because you’re my daughter either!”
Mariella wiped her eyes, “The smoke from the fire must be making my eyes burn.”
“Yeah right, go on telling yourself that girlfriend. Personally I have a bone to pick with you”,
Mariella turned to look at Liz, “What’s wrong?”
“When you wrote about my time on tour with the Beach Boys you made me sound stalkerish.”
Mariella laughed, “You weren’t on tour with them, you followed them while they were on tour.”
Christopher spoke up, “And what’s this crap about John Stamos not knowing who Liz is? How could the man not know who she is? Are you telling me that he saw her, night after night, state after state and never noticed the beautiful woman in the front row with the pink strands in her hair?”
Everyone laughed as Mariella responded, “My mistake Christopher, I’m sure he did notice her, and probably, no, I’m sure he had a massive crush on her, however, if I put that into print I would have his lawyers and publicists all over me, so I couldn’t do it.”
The only one who hadn’t spoken yet was Jeffrey. Mariella was aware of this, but was too afraid to meet his eyes. He was the one that worried her the most. The chapter on their marriage and divorce was the toughest for her to write and she knew it would be the toughest for him to read.
Sensing her discomfort he reached over and touched her on the sleeve. “You done good, kid”.
Tears threatened at the corners of her eyes again. “Seriously, is it okay? You’re not upset?”
“Mariella, it’s just fine. I told you, I made peace with all of this long ago. You handled this just as I knew you would, with honesty, sensitivity and respect. You could have really bashed me in that chapter, yet you didn’t. Maybe you should have, you could have made it more juicy, given your readers something to really sink their teeth into. But no, you wouldn’t do that. You stuck to the truth, the facts as you knew them then, and then as you know them now. I didn’t know you had that type of writing talent, I’m proud of you.”
She couldn’t fight them any longer, a single tear escaped her eye and was followed by several others. Jeffrey had lifted a huge weight off her chest, he was okay with it. He gave her his blessing on how she handled their story, and most of all, he said he was proud of her. It shouldn’t still mater, this many years later she shouldn’t need his seal of approval, and maybe she didn’t need it, but it sure felt good to get it.
“Thank you Jeffrey, that means more to me than you’ll ever know. How do you think Brad will react?”
Jeffrey leaned back and gave a deep throaty laugh, “Just like you’d think he would, he’ll laugh, he’ll cry, then he’ll ask if you’re going to write about how he proposed to me.”
This set the whole group of them laughing. Jeffrey had come a long way these past few years. When he first told Mariella that he was gay he stammered and stuttered. He couldn’t even say the word ‘gay’ to her, no, instead he used the phrase, ‘having feelings for a man’ and he practically whispered it each time he said it. Here he was now, proudly and openly discussing his impending wedding to Bradley. Thankfully the state of Massachusetts had long since legalized same sex marriage, which helped to remove some of the stigma many same sex couples had experienced years before.
Mariella was so relieved over Jeffrey’s response that she didn’t notice at first that Craig had walked away. She started looking around for him when she met Liz’s eye and Liz merely pointed to the swing on the front porch. Mariella made sure everyone was set with drinks then left them all talking around the fire as she went to talk to Craig.
“Hey, where’d you go? You okay?”
Craig reached out his hand to help her onto the swing. “I’m fine, I get it now. I’m an idiot.”
Confusion played across her face. “What are you talking about? What did I miss? What do you get?”
“Now I know why this was so difficult for you. All along I thought there was some dark secret that you didn’t trust me with, something you didn’t think I could handle. That wasn’t it at all, you weren’t worried that I couldn’t handle it, you were worried about protecting Jeff, you didn’t want to reveal his private life to the world.”
“Okay, first off, the world? I don’t think the world will read my book, but secondly, yes, I was afraid of outing him. It wasn’t my place. I needed to know that it was okay for me to reveal that part of him. You are not an idiot, it’s because of you that I was finally able to do tackle that subject and talk to him about it.”
“What do you mean?”
“You believed in me, you had faith that I would tell this story without lashing out and causing harm to others. You also never pushed me on what I was afraid of, you let me tackle my fear on my own, at my own pace, and in my own way. You don’t know what that kind of blind faith does for a person.”
“I do believe in you Mariella, and I cannot imagine how you endured what you endured. I knew you had been through a lot; Victoria’s illness when she was younger, being a single mom, starting a new life, all of that, but to think that you also had to come to terms with the knowledge that your husband was gay. It’s just too much for one person to bear.”
“No, Craig, it’s not. Yes, it’s a lot, I admit that, and there were many times when I felt completely overwhelmed and ready to jump ship, but as a single mom that’s not an option. You just have to pick yourself up and come up with a new strategy to get through today. You don’t think long term, you don’t make five year plans, no, you make a today plan, a plan on how to get through the next 24 hours, then once you do that you get up and start all over again. Next thing you know you’ve made it through a week, a month, a year. You don’t think, you just do.”
“Look at me Mariella”.
She did as she was told.
“You may disagree with me on this, but I promise you, I can guarantee you, there are several people on the other side of this house who would agree with me, you are an amazing woman and those kids are very lucky to have you as their role model.” The kiss he gave her then was hungrier than the one they had exchanged on the beach, more possessive, even more exciting.
“Mom, oops, sorry to interrupt, Gram and Victoria are talking about their singles cruise they’re planning and Dad’s vein is starting to pop out in his forehead, I was wondering if maybe you could come distract them all before Dad springs a leak.”
Craig held tight to her hand and looked her in the eyes and spoke softly so that only she could hear, “Go rescue your ex-husband, but know that we’re not done here. I’m falling for you Ms. Chase, I’m falling for you hard and I fully intend to win your heart. Oh, and just so you know, I’m playing for keeps.”
Christopher laid the last log on the fire and turned to kiss his wife, “Well ladies, as much as I’d like to stay and chat a while longer, I have an early date with Mr. D to go clamming so I need to get some shut eye.” Mariella started to rise to kiss Chris goodbye. “No, no Mar, just stay, I’ll come to you, besides, you look too comfortable sitting in that chair.”
Mariella smiled at him lazily and said, “I am, those were some kick butt margaritas you guys made me tonight”.
Chris chuckled, “Talk to your girl friend over here, she’s the one who ordered them double strength.”
“No wonder they hit me like a ton of bricks!”
Liz just laughed, “Honey, you’re lucky he stopped me at double strength, I originally requested triple, but he told me that I couldn’t do that to you.”
“Gee, thanks!” With that she kissed Christopher goodbye and watched as he walked over to his wife to kiss her goodnight. She couldn’t hear what he was saying to Liz, but she didn’t need to. Their body language and the look in their eyes spoke volumes. Their love was the stuff young girls dream about. They really had found their soul mates in each other. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have children yet, they had been trying for years. Nothing was physically wrong with either one of them; they just hadn’t been blessed with a baby yet for unknown reasons. They could be like other couples and go to a fertility specialist but they flat out refused. The believed that if they were meant to have a baby it would happen in time. It wasn’t something they really discussed with others, and usually nobody even bothered to ask. It was obvious to anyone who knew them that they were perfectly happy having just each other to love.
He bent down and gave his wife one last kiss before walking back home. As he was walking away he turned back and said over his shoulder, “Hey Liz, you’re right, tonight is the perfect night.” She looked at her husband and blew him a kiss while sending him a wink as he walked away.
“I can’t believe it went so well Liz, thank you so much for getting me through tonight.”
“Ha! You can’t thank me, you’re the one who did all the hard work. I still can’t believe you made me push you so hard to write your story. Can you see how much everyone loves it?”
Mariella laughed, “They liked what they’ve read so far”.
“Oh puh-leeze! Liked, no, they LOVED it. You saw them, you heard their reaction. They were hanging on your every word. Hell, I was hanging on your every word. I knew that Jeffrey is gay, yet I felt the shock you must have felt when you heard him say the words for the first time. It’s beautifully written Mar.”
Mariella giggled in spite of herself, “They did love it didn’t they?”
“Yes, they did. You’ve got a winner here Mar, I can smell it.”
“That’s low tide you doofus”, they both laughed. “Listen Liz, you have to keep it in perspective, this was a handpicked focus group. This wasn’t a true blind reading. The people reading these chapters tonight are people who love and respect me. The true test will be next month when BP brings in a panel of readers to test read it. That’s when we’ll really get a feel for whether or not I just wasted several months of my life opening old wounds and dusting off my battle scars.”
“It’s going to be fine sweetie. You really don’t know how gifted you are. Do you really think that we all love your book just because we love you? No, trust me, it’s what you write and how you phrase things. I’m not going to waste my breath trying to convince you. Instead I’m going to sit back and let ‘Joe Public’ do the convincing for me. Besides, I have much bigger fish to fry with you!”
Mariella laughed, “Bigger than the John Stamos fish you fried earlier?”
“That was Christopher’s fish to fry, mine was the one where you made me sound like a stalker.”
“You tried delivering the morning paper to the Beach Boys trailer every morning for six months. You knew all the body guards by name and still exchange Christmas cards with a couple of them.”
Liz tried to hide her smile, “Tiny loves me, and Bruno looks like a Mack truck but taught me how to knit, they’re great guys!”
“I rest my case”.
Liz took a sip of her tea, “Stop trying to distract me, my fish is called Craig and I want to know what you’re going to do with him now that you’ve got him on the hook.”
Mariella choked on her tea a little. “I haven’t got him on a hook!”
“Oh honey, you’ve got him hook line and sinker! He showed up and waited down on the rocks for you. He knew you’d be a nervous wreck so he canceled his business trip to be here with you!”
Mariella’s jaw fell open. “What? What trip? He didn’t say anything about a trip, business or pleasure?”
“He was scheduled to fly to Chicago this morning to talk to some Patterson dude about possibly switching publishers.”
“Patterson, as in James Patterson?”
“I think that’s what he said, I’m not sure. All I know is that earlier he and Chris were talking and Chris was saying how nice it was that Craig was able to be here to surprise you tonight, and Craig said that when he realized you were doing this tonight he called Patterson’s people and rescheduled it for next week.”
Mariella was struggling to comprehend what she was hearing. Why would Craig put an A-list author on hold for her? She hadn’t even published so much as a poem since her children’s book was published a couple of years ago. Is he insane? James Patterson pumped out books at an incredible rate and each time one hit the stands it was an instant best seller. Craig must be crazy, that was the only explanation she could think of. What would his bosses say when they heard about this?
“That’s just insane. What was he thinking? You don’t put someone like James Patterson on hold for an unknown author! He’ll never get the deal this way. Oh man, the suits at BP are going to fire him over this and it’s all going to be my fault!”
Liz merely laughed. “Honey, he didn’t put Patterson on hold for an unknown author, he put him on hold for the woman he loves.”
“LOVES? We’ve only been on a handful of dates!”
“Oh Mar, can you seriously be that blind? That man would walk through fire for you if you asked, and when he got to the other side he’d ask you if you wanted him to turn up the heat! He’s crazy for you. As for ‘a couple of dates’, you guys have been together almost every day for the last several months. Granted, you’ve gone out on quite a few formal dates, but think about it, who brings you a chai every single morning around ten? Who calls you or shows up coincidently each afternoon just as you are either thinking about what to do for dinner or starting to prepare it? Face it honey, he’s here, he’s happy and he’s not going anywhere any time soon.”
Mariella hadn’t really thought about it. It had just become part of the routine for him to show up each morning and hand her a hot cup of chai as she sat at the computer. If she wasn’t writing when he got there they’d sit on the swing and sip their tea together, but if she was already tapping away at the keys he’d hand her the chai, force her to make eye contact with him for a few seconds then kiss her goodbye and leave her to her writing. Liz was right, every day, sometime in the late afternoon he would call to catch up on her day. If she was in the zone and had lost track of time he’d suddenly offer to take her to dinner with or without the kids, but if she was already preparing dinner she would automatically invite him to join them and as long as his schedule would allow he’d make himself available. Some nights he would stay and they would walk on the beach or sit on the rocks together listening to the waves and talking about everything and nothing at all. On the nights when she was struggling with something in the book and felt the need to get back to her writing he’d shoo her off to her office and he’d finish the dishes with the kids then quietly head out after slipping in her office for a quick kiss goodnight. She had no memory of how this pattern started, no recollection of how it was before… she just knew that it felt natural.
Liz smiled at her friend as she saw the pieces all falling into place as her emotions crossed her face. She liked the distant look in Mariella’s eyes, she liked the smile that settled on her lips. She liked the fact that Mariella was so lost in her own thoughts that she was unaware of the slight blush that rose in her cheeks. Yes, Craig was in love, and whether or not she knew it, so was Mariella.
“Okay, my work here is done, I’m heading home now too, maybe if I hurry I can catch Christopher before he drifts off.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, Okay, that’s a good idea.”
Knowing that Mariella wasn’t really listening to her she decided to have fun with it, “Yes, I think I’ll try to catch him so we can fry some blueberries in the bathtub.”
“Yeah, he’d like that.”
Okay, it was kind of mean, but Liz enjoyed the fact that for once her friend wasn’t on top of things, for once she was feeling rather than thinking, and in this case, with this man, that was a good thing.
“Alright honey, kiss me, you need sleep. Let’s throw some sand on this fire and call it a day.”
Mariella seemed to snap herself out of her reverie, “What? No, I’ve got this, wait, did you just say something about blueberries in the bathtub?”
Liz cracked up, “I knew you were in there somewhere, I was just trying to bring you back to the surface. Good night Mar, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Night Liz, no, wait, what did Chris mean before when he said you were right? Something about tonight being the perfect night? I know it wasn’t about my chapters!”
“Oh, yeah, it’s nothing, no big deal, he just thought it was the perfect night for me to congratulate you on the debut of your baby and to let you know that ours will be making a debut in another six months.”
It took Mariella a few seconds to register the look of pure joy on Liz’s face and match it up with the words she had just spoken. “We’re having a baby?”
Tears sprang to Liz’s eyes, “We’re having a baby, and what a lucky baby to have a famous author as a Godmother.”
Mariella was matching Liz tear for tear as the two hugged. “Oh Sweetie, we’re having a baby! I can’t believe it, I’m so happy for you guys, I’m happy for me, I get to spoil it rotten! Do you know what it is? How do you feel? Oh no, you drank with me tonight!”
Liz laughed and wiped away the tears from her eyes, “No honey, I didn’t drink with you tonight, I drank virgin margaritas. I haven’t had alcohol in months. I just didn’t want to say anything until the first trimester was up, once the doc gave us clearance we were just waiting for the right moment to tell you and I had a feeling that tonight might be the night. As you know now, Chris agreed. You’re going to be an aunt!”
“And you’re going to be a Mommy!”
The sun was still in the process of rising and the air held the crisp chill of autumn. Mariella loved sipping her morning tea watching seagulls fly soundlessly in the distance, swooping down to the beach in search of breakfast. She loved the feeling of peace and solitude that came from being out here this early. Usually the kids would be upstairs holding tight to the last minutes of sleep before she had to wake them to get ready for school. This morning, however, the kids were not in their beds. They had slept at Jeffrey’s last night after getting home late from the Red Sox vs. Yankees game. This was an annual outing for them, as Jeffrey was a diehard Red Sox fan and Stephen was a true blue Yankees fan. Victoria usually just went along to take pictures of the father/son rivalry and to ‘accidently’ take pictures of random cute boys in the stands. It was possibly their favorite outing all year, regardless of who won. They had a deal, if Jeffrey’s team won then Stephen had to wear a Red Sox shirt in the family Christmas picture, but if Stephen’s team won, then Jeffrey had to walk around Boston wearing a Yankees hat all day and pose for pictures so that Stephen could post them on Facebook and brag to his friends.
Mariella smiled to herself as she realized that she never did check the final score last night when she got home. She intended to find out the score so she would know whether the celebratory Stephen would be coming home to her or the sulking Stephen. Her intentions were good, however, she was distracted when she got home and well, baseball never entered her thoughts.
What he wouldn’t give to know what she was thinking about out there on the deck in her flannel pants and the blue sweatshirt he had given her. Her hair was lifting in the gentle breeze as a smile played at her lips. Whatever she was thinking about had made her chuckle to herself. He could stay there for hours watching her, but the pull to be with her was even greater than his desire to stand there and watch her, so he grabbed his mug of coffee and opened the slider to join her outside.
At the sound of the slider Mariella turned around and greeted him, “Good morning Handsome!”
“You left me!”
“Haha, you were sleeping so peacefully I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Babe, it wouldn’t have been disturbing me”, with that he used his free hand and placed it behind her neck to pull her closer for a morning kiss.
As they pulled apart she tried to sound light hearted as she asked him, “So, was it worth waiting all those years for?”
It took him a moment to realize what she was really asking him. “Making love with you?”
She shyly nodded her head yes as she bit her lower lip, a move that was endearing and in his opinion, sexy as hell.
“Babe, do you really need to ask me that?”
Her eyes went downward and he barely heard her reply, “I do”.
It hit him like a piano dropping from the sky, she was worried that he would be disappointed. Last night was the first time they had ever made love. A move she didn’t make lightly. Her concern was not just first time jitters, it went far deeper. She was afraid that he’d be disappointed, she was afraid that he’d reject her, she was afraid that now that he got what he had wanted all those years ago maybe it wasn’t going to live up to what he had been expecting or hoping for. She was afraid that now that he got what he had asked for all those years ago he would up and leave her to conquer his next challenge.
Another man might have been insulted by this, another man might have been hurt, yet another man might laugh, but not him. He knew her fears ran deep and were a result of many years of rejection for one reason or another. There had only been a few men who came before him, but those men had done their share of damage to her self image. He knew that the beautiful sexy woman the rest of the world saw was nothing like the image she had of herself.
He placed his steaming mug of coffee on the railing and reached out for her hand. She followed his lead and placed her mug on the railing next to his before walking into his embrace. She instantly buried her head in his chest to avoid looking him in the eyes.
“Babe, please look at me, I want you to see me when I am talking to you, I want you to see the truth on my face as I say this.”
She took a deep breath before meeting his eyes.
“Babe, let me be perfectly clear about this, I have waited many years to make love to you, last night it finally happened. We didn’t have sex, we didn’t screw around, no, we made love. If you had given in to me all those years ago it would have been nothing like what we did last night. You were absolutely right in your decision to not give in to me back then. I was not capable of making love back then, what I did in those days was just sex. What we did last night was beautiful. It was the true meaning of making love. If you told me right now that I had to wait another twenty years to make love to you again I would do so. Don’t get me wrong, I’d moan and groan a whole heck of a lot in the meantime, but I would wait. I could never go back to having sex just for the sake of having sex. You’re all I want Babe, and more than I deserve. Last night was everything it was supposed to be and so much more.”
He heard her exhale and realized she had been holding her breath waiting for his response. “Thank you, I just didn’t want to disappoint you. I felt like the reality might not measure up to the dream.”
“Babe, I’d like that to be my reality for the rest of my life.”
She didn’t know how to respond to that. Was that a proposal? The idea that he might actually want to marry her had tears springing to her eyes. Quickly she buried her face in his chest. She felt foolish, what if that wasn’t a proposal, how was she going to explain the tears. What if it was a proposal, what would her response be? Did she want to marry him? Oh crap, they only made love once and she was thinking proposals already? He would think she was nuts if he knew what she was thinking.
She felt him reach into his pocket to grab his handkerchief for her. She smiled through her tears, do men still carry handkerchiefs? Oh no, if he’s reaching for his handkerchief that means he knew she was crying! Willing the tears to stop but knowing they would betray her she tried to bury her face deeper in his sweatshirt to try and dry them before he would see them.
Once he had the handkerchief out he pulled back from him. She couldn’t meet his eyes because she felt so foolish. His hand reached under her chin and he tipped her head up to meet his eyes. He kissed her then. Using his thumb to wipe away the tears from her right eye he smiled at her. She laughed at herself in hopes that he would just laugh with her and they could get past this awkward moment. She turned away from him a moment to look out at the water and compose herself. Being the gentleman that he was he let her take a moment.
Finally she turned to face him only to find him kneeling in front of her, a jewelers box in his hand and tears in his own eyes.
“Mariella Chase, I love you. I love your laugh, I love your eyes, I love the way you love your kids. I love the way you cherish your friendship with Liz, I love the way you love your brother and sisters, I love the way you value and love your mother. I love the way you love me. I want to be with you forever. I want to be with you when you become a grandmother; I want to be in the swing on the front porch listening to storms with you well into our golden years. I want to be the one who kisses you each morning and holds you each night. I want the rest of the chapters of my life to be written with you in them. Will you marry me?”
Victoria and Stephen were waiting in front of the school when she went to pick them up. Anxiety on their faces as they waited for her to pull to a full stop. They quickly threw their backpacks in the trunk and got in the car.
“What’s going on Mom, what’s wrong?” Stephen did the talking since Victoria looked as if she were afraid of the answer to that question.
“Nothing is wrong, why do you think something is wrong?”
Sounding slightly more edgy than she intended, Victoria spoke up, “You called the high school, had them pull us out of class to tell us you were picking us up at school. You never pick us up at school Mom, you never call the school. The only time you pick us up at school is if we have appointments or something and even then you send us in with a note in the morning. You hate calling the school, you said you feel like you’re back in school yourself and that they’re going to yell at you.”
Mariella chuckled, “Not true, okay, well, yes, I do feel that way, but I’ve picked you up for other reasons before.”
“Name one”, Victoria couldn’t get the edge out of her voice.
Hearing the stress in her daughter’s voice Mariella tried another tact, “Nothing is wrong, nothing to worry about. I just wanted to talk to the two of you and I won’t be home tonight because I have that meeting at Briarwood to go over the final edits.”
Stephen threw a look at his sister to silence her so he could take over, “Okay, so nothing is wrong, you just need to talk to us about something and it’s something that can’t wait until tomorrow, is that right?”
“Well, er, yes, I guess it is.”
“Mom, tell me or I’m jumping out the window, you’re freaking me out!”
“Okay Vic, relax, can you at least give me a second, I had this all planned out and this is NOT how I wanted to have this conversation.”
“Fine”, and she turned her head to stare out the window. Her left leg was doing that jiggly thing it does every time she gets nervous. This was what they call a ‘tell’, when a person’s body language gives away what their words are trying to convey. Victoria had several ‘tells’ and she was completely unaware of them, however, Mariella knew them all. She knew that her daughter was feeling very anxious right now, and she knew she needed to calm her down.
“Well, okay, let me stop over at the ice cream shop and we’ll talk there, then if you’re up for it we’ll get ice cream to take home for you guys to have tonight while I’m out.” Two blocks down the road she pulled into the local creamery and parked under a shady tree. “Here, let’s go to the picnic table.”
Stephen chose to walk between his mother and his sister. He always took on the role of peace keeper, Usually he was the voice of reason who could calm his sister and the one who could explain things to his mother in a way where she would at least be willing to consider the other side of an argument.
“Okay Mom, let’s have it before Vic shakes us off the picnic table with that dancing leg of hers.”
Victoria was torn between growling at her brother for his comment and wanting to thank him for prodding their mother along.
“Alright, first of all, it’s good news, I think. As you know I’ve been seeing Mr. Michaels for a while now.”
“Oh man, what’d you do? Please don’t tell me you broke up. The guy is nuts for you Mom, what’d you do?”
“Gee, Vic, thanks for the vote of confidence. I didn’t DO anything. May I go on?”
“Crap, I knew it was too good to last”, she crossed her arms across her chest and played with a strand of her hair, yet another tell that Mariella picked up on.
“Vic, shut up, let her finish” then seeing the hurt in her eyes he added, “Please just let her finish?”
Victoria merely nodded.
“As I was saying, you know how Mr. Michaels and I have been dating for a while now. Well, I guess you could say it’s more than dating. Well, whatever the proper term is these days… anyway, I think I may have told you this, but we actually dated many years ago, but that didn’t work out because, well, that doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is now.”
Victoria groaned and fidgeted on the bench. Stephen looked as though he was getting more nervous by the minute. Pick up the pace, Mariella told herself, your audience is about to rush the stage!
“Well, anyway, it seems Mr. Michaels wants to marry me.”
“What do you mean and?”
“We know that Mom!”
Mariella’s mouth dropped open. “What do you mean you know that already?”
Stephen smiled, “He asked us first.”
Mariella could not believe what she was hearing. “He what?”
“Mom, did you see the score from last night’s game?”
“Stephen you’re not making any sense, what does the game have to do with the topic at hand? I swear, you’re making my head spin.”
Victoria finally cracked a smile and laughed, “Mom, there was no game last night.”
“What are you talking about?”
Stephen and Victoria exchanged smiles and Victoria spoke up, “Mom, there was no game last night. You know how Mr. Michaels was here on Monday when you got home from the store? That’s because he was here asking Stephen and I for our blessing.”
Mariella didn’t even feel the tears as they fell from her eyes. What a thoughtful man, he knew that her kids were her universe, they were her heart and soul, he knew that and was not intimidated by it, instead he respected it.
Stephen hugged his mother, Victoria joined him, “Um, Mom, did you answer him?”
Mariella was laughing and crying at the same time, hugging her two most treasured gifts. “I told him I needed to talk to the two of you to see if you were okay with it.”
Stephen laughed, “Now that’s pretty funny, what did he say?”
“Come to think of it, he seemed pretty confident as he told me to, and I quote, ‘Go for it”.
Victoria grew serious, “Mom, do you love him?”
“I do, I really do.”
“We do too Mom, and we love how he loves you. Please say yes.”
“She’s right Mom, he’s a good guy, and as a special bonus, he likes the Yankees!”
At that they all laughed together. “Okay, let’s grab that ice cream, I’ve got to see a man about a proposal.”
Craig was sitting in his office starring out the window. She hadn’t called him. He had proposed nearly 48 hours ago and yet he hadn’t heard from her. She couldn’t forgive him, that had to be it, she still believed he was a player. There should be some sort of statute of limitations on acts caused by hormonal stupidity. He punched his desk. He should have done more to prove to her that he had changed. Maybe he should have waited longer to ask her to marry him. Maybe if he waited another month or so it would have given him more time to show her how serious he was, how much he had evolved through the years, that he wasn’t just one big walking hormone anymore.
Frustrated he balled up a piece of paper and chucked it across the room. It bounced off the plaque he received when BP gave him his last promotion. He could remember the CEO’s words the day that they made the announcement, “Craig, from this point forward you get to write your own life story, we’re happy to be a chapter in that story. You’ve worked your way up from mailroom to the executive board room and we’re proud to have you.” His speech was followed by the obligatory handshakes, slaps on the back and the requisite amount of ‘atta-boys’. At the time he was flying sky high. He worked hard for that promotion and he was very proud of the fact that he earned it free and clear. He didn’t trample or cheat his way, no, he slaved and planned and navigated his way through the company and that day was his just rewards.
He got up and walked across the room to straighten the plaque as he had knocked it off balance. He was standing there still lost in the memories of that day when he heard the old familiar sound of the mail cart as it made its way down the hall. He chuckled, funny how a sound from your past could bring you right back to that place and time. You’d think that after all these years they’d fix the squeal on that stupid cart, but no, it still announced its own arrival.
Craig picked up the wad of paper off the floor and was returning to his desk when he heard the mail room kid knock on the door, “Just leave it on the back credenza, I’ll tackle that in the morning”, he said without looking back.
When the mailroom kid didn’t respond Craig turned around to give him a brief speech about how important it was to make small talk with the executives if you ever wanted to go somewhere in this company. The words were stuck in his throat as his office door closed with a click and standing before him in that very sexy lavender dress was Mariella.
“Um, er, uh, wow, did they give the mailroom a pay increase? I don’t remember the other kids dressing that nice.”
“This old thing? It’s just something I threw on this morning before heading to work.”
Craig tried to laugh but the sound that escaped his lips was more of a nervous chuckle. His heart was beating loudly in his chest, he was sure she could probably hear it.
“I have some mail for you here Mr. Michaels” there was pure mischief in her eyes.
“Oh, um, you do?”
“Yes sir, would you like me to skim through it for you, or would you rather go through it yourself?”
Sensing that this was part of her plan he decided to take a deep breath and hope for the best. “Why don’t you tell me what’s there.”
Smiling she walked over and sat on the edge of his desk. The hemline of her dress rising as she crossed her legs. She looked amazing to him, Victoria must have been playing in her makeup kit again because Mariella’s eyes were sparkling as she read him his mail.
“Well, there’s your copy of the New York Times Best Seller preview list, a couple of industry publishing magazines, oh, an invitation to the Briarwood Holiday Kick-off Party in honor of new book coming out by the amazing new author Mariella Chase, a couple of invitations to museum galas and oh wait, what’s this?”
Craig could feel the tension leaving his body, she was being playful, she didn’t look nervous, she looked happy. Even if she were here to turn him down it would be okay because at least she looked happy. Okay, it wouldn’t be ‘okay’, it would probably kill him, but he did find pleasure in the fact that she looked happy.
“I don’t know, what is it?”
“It appears to be an invitation to a party in your honor.”
Confused Craig tried to search his memory to figure out why someone would be having a party in his honor. It wasn’t easy, the amount of leg she was showing, the smell of her sexy perfume, the glimmer in her eyes… she was distracting him, confusing him, overpowering him, intoxicating him.
“Would you like me to read it to you?”
“You are cordially invited to attend the biggest party of the season. Please join us on Saturday, October 16th as we celebrate the announcement of one of the publishing industry’s biggest mergers. Be there to join us as Craig Michaels and future bestselling author Mariella Chase rejoice over their impending union as husband and wife.”
The smile on her face grew even larger as the tears in her eyes escaped. Craig digested the meaning of the invitation and looked at her questioningly, “Is that a yes?”
She threw her arms around his neck, “It’s a yes!”
Regis looked at the camera, “Gelman, mark my words, she’ll pop out another one yet… she’s practically drooling over that baby.” The audience laughed and applauded.
“Come on Reeeg, look at her beautiful little face, so precious, so angelic”
“Oh sure, that’s how they suck you in. Then you teach them the three things that make your life miserable.”
“You teach them to walk talk and read… once they learn to walk you can’t turn your back on them. Once you teach them to talk they never shut up again. Finally, you teach them to read and well, forget about it… they’re reading over your shoulder, you’ve got no privacy left. See, the audience agrees with me. Trust me, Mariella, you don’t want to do that.”
Mariella laughed as Kelly responded, “I’m sure she already knows, she has two older children. Do you find motherhood the second time around any different from the first time?”
“Oh yes, this time around it’s much easier. The kids are older and absolutely adore their younger sister. Between the two of them and my husband Craig, I have to fight just to have some time alone with her. Thank goodness for feeding time, otherwise I am pretty convinced that I’d have to sue the three of them for visitation rights!” The audience laughed.
“So tell us, since you have such a great support system at home, when can we expect the next book? Have you started working on one?”
“As a matter of fact, I have started working on my next one. It’s in the beginning stages now, but it seems to be going well so far.”
Kelly rubbed her hands together, “By any chance does that hunky mechanic Ryan make his way into the second book? Maybe you need to hook him up with, oh, I don’t know, perhaps a strikingly beautiful young talk show host named Kelly?”
Regis rolled his eyes, “Oh please, and what would Mark say?”
“Knowing Mark, he’d put a big smile on his face and say, ‘good luck buddy’.”
Mariella laughed, “So far Ryan hasn’t made a reoccurrence, but if he finds his way back into the pages I will give your suggestion some consideration.”
Kelly stuck her tongue out at Regis and continued, “What can you tell us about the second book? Is it a continuation of the previous story, is a prequel, or is it an entirely new situation?”
“Well, I don’t want to reveal too much, I still have a way to go with it yet… but I will say that some of the characters from the first book make appearances, but the focus of this book is on a different character.”
Regis liked that, “What a great concept. If you wanted you could actually write at least a dozen books based on the characters from the first book, each time with a different view point. Is that something you think you’ll do?”
“Well, to be honest, I don’t know. When I am writing I tend to only focus on the work at hand, I don’t really look ahead to the next one. As a matter of fact, I’m told that when I write it’s like I am in a trance.”
Kelly said, “I read an interview that your daughter gave where she said that it would be easier waking you from a drug induced coma than it is to pull you out of your writing trance.”
The audience chuckled, “Well, Victoria might be exaggerating slightly. I will admit, when I am ‘in the zone’, as my son puts it, I tend to be single in focus and am perhaps unaware of the world around me.”
Regis said, “If you play tennis with that kind of focus I could really use you on the court!”
“Ha, no, sorry, I do two things with that type of focus, write and love my family.”
“And that shows in your writing Mariella. Thank you so much for being here today. Pick up Mariella’s book, “Nobody Would Believe” hitting the bookstores this Friday! Listen, keep in mind my idea about Ryan and Kelly, I really think your readers would like that angle.”
Regis chuckled, “Of course you do, thank you Mariella, congratulations on your marriage and baby Bella, good luck with the rest of the tour.”
“Thank you both for having me.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mariella Chase”
As the camera faded to commercial Kelly handed back baby Bella to Mariella, “She really is beautiful.”
“Thank you Kelly, and thank you Regis for being so kind.”
“We wish you the best of luck. Thank you for signing a copy for my wife, Joy threatened to change the locks if I came home without it today.”
Mariella laughed, shook their hands and took Bella off stage to where Craig was waiting in the wings. He had blown off work today to be with her. It was the first stop on her book tour and he wanted to be with her to show support, not as her publisher, as her partner, her love, her husband.
“Come on handsome, I think we have time for a quick cup of coffee before the next stop.”
“I don’t want coffee, I want you.”
Mariella leaned in and kissed him just as Bella let out a giggle.
“Careful Mr. Michaels, your daughter is watching.”
“Watch and learn Bella, and never settle for less than absolute love! Come on Mrs. Michaels, I want some alone time with my girls.” Putting his arm around her waist he led her to the waiting limo, “Your chariot awaits.”
“Why, thank you. If you help me strap her into the car seat we might even have a little time to make out on the way to Starbucks.”
“Driver, take the scenic route and obey all traffic signs.”
Chuckling the driver replied, “Yes sir” and raised the privacy screen.
Written by Maryann Ziman
Submitted by Tammie
Please leave comments....this is written by my best friend and she doesn't believe others will love her writing as much as I do. Sometimes I yell at her cause i can't find a good author on the shelves of my bookstore and where the heck is her work!?!?!?!