Common Problems Within a Marriage

Flirting young African American woman

No marriage is perfect. If a couple claims that theirs is, then it’s more than likely that one or both are not being honest with themselves or their partner. This can seriously damage a relationship, in both the short and long term. Part of being human is that we experience emotions and we experience problems if our needs are not being met. How you handle these problems in a relationship is crucial as to whether or not you’ll have a healthy marriage.

Mobile phone addiction

Lack of Communication.

Poor or little communication is the most common problem and is at the root of 99% of relationship issues. Perhaps you feel your partner is not interested in you or you have nothing in common anymore, so you don’t bother discussing what’s going on in your life  anymore. It could be that you have started living separate lives although you share the same home.

When married couples stop communicating and don’t talk about any underlying problems openly and honestly, things begin to fester and resentment sets in. All relationships needs nurturing. That means taking the time to ask your loved one about their day and their feelings about things and making the effort to share about yours.

Betrayal concept

Jealousy

There are many couples where one or both don’t trust their partners even with no factual foundation for jealousy. It could be you or your other half who’s insecure but the relationship can quickly become toxic if steps aren’t taken to take control of it.

It will help if you talk things through and find a way to understand what is driving any insecurity and help you work past the lack of trust. It’s not about attributing blame it’s about understanding both of your perspectives. Each party need to feel safe and secure in a marriage and that can only happen if both sides show understanding and acceptance.

seduction

The Passion Has Died

Passion within a relationship can diminish if you allow it to. Keeping passion alive takes hard work and effort, but it is worth it. That means doing new and exciting things, exploring your sexuality, challenging each other, thinking of new ways to give and receive pleasure. This is great for your mental health too and makes you a more relaxed person and someone who is great company. When you and your partner spend more time with each other and remember the things you love about each other, things can get back to normal even if you’ve started experiencing boredom and intimacy issues in your marriage.

Marriage problems can only be avoided or resolved if you decide to do something about it.

Sleepwalking Murder in Fact & Fiction

sleeping girl

My brother was a sleepwalker, and I still remember with unease my childhood encounters with him in the night–appearing silently in my room, shuffling past down a dark hall, mumbling to unseen companions as he moved blind-eyed through his dream world.

The strange phenomenon of sleepwalking has been the basis for real and fictional murder mysteries. One of the most famous cases of homicidal sleepwalking was that of Kenneth James Parks, a married 23-year-old Canadian man who left his bed in the early morning hours of May 1987, and, still asleep, drove to his in-laws’ home where he assaulted his father-in-law and stabbed his mother-in-law to death. The next thing he said he could recall was arriving at the police station, saying “I think I have killed some people…” Despite skepticism of his sleepwalking defense, his consistent story, lack of motive, the testimony of sleep specialists and abnormal EEG readings resulted in his acquittal by a jury.

the sleepwalkerSleepwalking has captivated fictional mystery writers as well. In last year’s The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian, Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, and her daughters assume another sleepwalking incident. Annalee’s husband flies home from a business trip, and search parties comb the nearby woods, but only a small swatch of nightshirt fabric hanging from a tree branch is found. Drawn to a detective who continues to stop by, her older daughter begins to wonder about the detective’s motives, why no body has been found, and why incidents seem to occur when her father is absent.

the night walkerAnother eerie entry from 2013 is The Nightwalker by Sebastian Fitzek: Leon Nader had been violent as a young man while sleepwalking but believes he has been cured by psychiatric treatment—until his wife disappears from their apartment. Nader fits a movement-activated camera to his forehead, and when he looks at the video the next morning, he makes an unimaginable discovery about his nocturnal personality.

 

 

the crossingIn 2011, B. Michael Radburn published The Crossing set in Tasmania. Traumatized by the disappearance of his daughter, Taylor Bridges’ marriage breaks down, and he exiles himself to Tasmania’s Glorys Crossing as the only national park ranger in an isolated town slowly disappearing under the rising waters of a new dam project. Taylor is a chronic sleepwalker, and when another young girl of the same age as his lost daughter goes missing, he begins to worry about his unknown behavior while sleepwalking.

ivory daggerAmong the more traditional novels about sleepwalking homicide are The Ivory Dagger by Patricia Wentworth, in which her sleuth Miss Silver solves the case of a young woman, prone to sleepwalking, who is accused of murdering her wealthy (but disagreeable) fiance, and I’ve Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark, in which a young woman who begins to doubt her new husband’s suspicious nighttime wanderings, especially since he is connected with a vanished former girlfriend, a drowned wife, and bodies newly discovered on his estate.

For more true stories of homicidal sleepwalking, see https://www.thoughtco.com/homicidal-sleepwalking-is-it-real-4098185

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

My Knight In Shining Armor

From True Romance Magazine

August 2006

Aaron meant everything to me, and I thought we were inseparable. As I viewed things, we were destined to walk down the aisle together and raise several children in a loving household. Somewhere down the road in our happy marriage, we’d both to turn gray and retire. That would allow us time to baby-sit our perfect grandchildren.

Of all places, Aaron and I met in line at our neighborhood deli. When I reached for my money, I realized my wallet was on the kitchen counter at home. Without hesitation, Aaron came to my rescue and paid for my package of roast beef. My knight in shining armor—with piercing eyes that seemed to change from green to blue, depending on the light.

Flustered, I thanked the sandy-haired man. “Of course, I’ll repay you,” I said. That was the right thing to do. Why should a complete stranger pay for my sliced sandwich meat? On the other hand, how could I manage to hand the four dollars owed to this man when I knew he’d walk out the glass door and disappear forever?

Aaron smiled, and I saw he had perfect teeth. Why shouldn’t he? He was my dream man, probably an actor from the movie set filming down the block. He looked the part of a romantic lead. I judged him to be about thirty, give or take a year. He wore no wedding ring, and that made my heart flutter more than it should. It wasn’t my style to pick up men at the deli.

   Was he drop-dead gorgeous?

   Definitely.

   Was he interested in me?

   Of course not.

   Would I ever see him again?

   Probably not.

   Was I acting like a total idiot?

   Definitely.

No man had turned my head for ages, light years maybe. I couldn’t even remember the last time I thought I could possibly fall in love with somebody. While it wasn’t my plan to remain single forever, I’d found nobody suitable.

At the insistence of well-meaning friends at work, I endured endless blind dates, the kind with unhappy endings everybody always jokes about. Every supposed Mr. Right turned out to be a boring Mr. Wrong. Or a jerk. Or a Mr. Boring Jerk.

I was the only single woman in the entire department, and everyone took pity on my unhitched state and went on the prowl to help me get to the altar.

I sat through a Chinese dinner during which an overweight stockbroker droned on and on about which oil companies were headed up, up, up. As I sat there silently, I envisioned using my chopsticks to toss a few grains of rice his way to see if they’d stick to his glasses. The mere thought of it made me smile, which he mistook for keen interest in the subject. I was treated to another half-hour lecture.

Then a history teacher tried to explain the Russian Revolution to me over a pizza lunch. He bored me to tears and blew cigarette smoke in my face as he talked. I pleaded a sudden headache and headed home in a taxi.

My boss had the nerve to tell me I’d set my standards too high. I couldn’t disagree with her more. How could a woman ever set her standards for a partner too high? That wasn’t the problem at all. These were all the wrong guys; that’s the reason nothing worked out as it should.

Not all these fix-ups were dreadful disasters from start to finish. There were a few enjoyable moments now and then, a few laughs, but nobody made my heart go pitter-patter. I gave out my phone number sparingly, and goodnight kisses even more so. If my heart wasn’t in it, I wanted my lips to adhere to common sense.

Besides turning me into a skilled listener who could sit for hours with barely a yawn, what my frequent dating did do for my life was create the need for an evening wardrobe. My closet contained a number of fancy dinner dresses, heels that would never be right for the office, and an assortment of glittery faux necklaces and earrings. I could dress up for the opera as effortlessly as for an informal Saturday matinee movie.

Sometimes I felt that buying glittery outfits was a waste of money, them being nothing more than costumes so I could play the role of the single gal waiting to be swept off her feet. No doubt about it, I’d be dressed to the nines should somebody masquerading as a prince come along offering to steal my heart. I’d give him the green light to start sweeping me off my feet, but only if he was the right one.

Aaron-in-the-deli was such a soul mate for me; I could sense it. Wanting to repay his impromptu loan, I wondered if it would be safe to give this prince my home number.

As if reading my mind, he handed me his business card. “I’m Aaron McCallister,” he said. “I work just down the block. Feel free to call me. About the money, of course,” he said, his face turning a delightful shade of dark pink.

Had this man actually blushed on my behalf? I wondered. Charming. Prince Charming.

   Was Aaron McCallister hitting on me?

   Of course not.

   Did my fingers feel electricity as I accepted the card from him?

   Unquestionably.

   Did he experience the same jolt from me?

   Very unlikely.

   Was I reacting like an inexperienced high school girl?

   No doubt about it.

   I thanked Aaron, smiled up at him as I latched onto his card, and then raced toward the exit in need of fresh air. Never in my life had I fainted, and I wasn’t about to experience it in my favorite deli. Almost to the doorway, I realized I hadn’t mentioned my name. Over my shoulder, barely turning my head, I called out, “My name is Ginny and I’ll be calling you!”

Back at my desk, I examined Aaron’s card, my fingertips caressing the raised type. The minutes and hours of the afternoon seemed to creep by and I longed to dial his number and hear his baritone voice. I decided there were too many romance snoops around the office for me to risk calling him from my desk, because everyone in the building would hear about it within an hour. Anyway, my inbox was piled high with reports and invoices. Aaron would have to wait. As it turned out, I never took a lunch break to enjoy the sliced meat paid for by the gallant stranger who came to my rescue.

The next morning, I dressed in my most expensive suit to head for the office. I felt on top of the world in my navy blue pantsuit and silk blouse that required intricate ironing. I even wore a strand of pearls. Wouldn’t that just wow everybody? Friday was designated as our dress-down day, so everybody else would show up in comfy jeans and faded sweatshirts proclaiming names of sports teams or universities.

“Oh, Ginny, are you going to a funeral today?” the receptionist asked me as I walked in.

I burst out laughing. Thanks to one Aaron McCallister, my emotions were raging out of control.

Concentrating on quarterly reports was not easy and the hours dragged by, but somehow I got to lunchtime. I thought about the business card in my purse and figured I would call Aaron once everyone headed downstairs to the cafeteria, but my boss’ desk was within earshot and she was conducting a meeting with higher-ups. I didn’t want anyone in on my romantic secret. Instead, I buried my nose in paperwork and tried to forget about those piercing blue-green eyes.

I moved to my plan B. I knocked off an hour earlier than usual so I could call Aaron as soon as I got home. He had not trusted me with his home or cell number, so I had to call him at his office during standard business hours. My hands trembled as I dialed his advertising agency.

He answered after the second ring and my heart about melted. “Ginny here, Ginny Krugar,” I announced. That sounded too formal, so I added, “I’m the woman with the roast beef.”

“Yes, Ginny-with-the-roast-beef. And what’s your rating of your deli purchase? Was it fresh and thinly sliced? Did you make yourself a gigantic roast beef sandwich yesterday?” he asked. “I hope you found the fat was properly trimmed.”

I thought he was kidding with me, but I wasn’t sure. Then he laughed and I knew he was teasing.

Roast beef? Where was my little package with the rubber band around it anyway? I couldn’t remember taking it out of my purse to stick it in the fridge. Aaron had made too much of a first impression on me for me to think straight “Uh, to tell the truth, most of us couldn’t break free from financial reports to eat a normal lunch, so I never got around to opening it at the office,” I said. “I guess I can enjoy it for a cold supper tonight.”

“Oh, really?” Aaron asked me.

“I just walked in the door,” I answered. “I haven’t had a chance to plan my dinner menu yet.” Why was I discussing roast beef with this dreamy guy?

“Ginny, I have something to tell you,” Aaron said.

Did my heart stop? Was this a marriage proposal to sweep me off my feet?

“You there, Ginny?” the masculine voice asked, this time a little louder.

“Sorry, Aaron, I’m still here. It’s been a stressful week for me, I’m afraid,” I said. “Today was even more taxing than yesterday, and yesterday was a killer.”

“I figured that much,” he responded. “First, you forgot your wallet, and whether you realize it or not, you ran off and forgot your packet of roast beef.”

I let out a gasp and that turned to a hearty laugh. I never felt shy about laughing at myself, and this was a whopper. Recovering smoothly, I asked, “Have you raised the price in the last twenty-four hours, or do I still owe you four dollars?” Excellent save, Ginny.

“How about four dollars and we meet for coffee tomorrow? Or do you work Saturdays?” he asked.

I assured him I had weekends free. After I agreed to meet him at the food court at the Castleville Mall, I soaked in a bubble bath to ease the tension of the workweek from my body and soul. I really can’t remember much about my relaxing bath. For the first time in my twenty-six years, I fell asleep in the bathtub.

We sat in a corner booth and ordered our drinks. Aaron was as intelligent as I’d figured. He was quite a talker. He told me how he’d founded the advertising agency fresh out of college and that he and his small group produce print ads. He told me he’d be on the West Coast the following week to meet with his pet-food clients.

My heart skipped a beat to think of him flying away from me. A whole week without Aaron? Common sense told me I was being ridiculous.

We ordered second lattes and chatted easily about family and friends. I wasn’t the least bit aware of time moving. He asked about my job at the water company, and I filled him in with the basics.

I slipped up and told him I was the only single woman in my department. How I wished I hadn’t spoken those words.

Aaron laughed. “I bet everyone takes you under their wing to get you married off. Everyone I know always has the perfect partner in mind for me, but I’m bored to death by blind dates. They never turn out and they waste my time. I’d rather be working out at the gym or swimming. For that matter, I could be sitting on the couch watching television reruns and that would be time better spent.”

I had to agree with him, and I told him about some of my recent experiences—like the one man who had an allergic reaction to something in our dinner and had to be rushed to the hospital two hours after we’d met and the accountant who tried to sneak his arm around me at the movies and who ended up dropping his eyeglasses into my buttered popcorn.

“Ginny, do you think there is a perfect partner out there for everyone?” Aaron asked.

I couldn’t look him in the eyes. “I’m not sure,” I whispered.

“Well, my brother insists that’s how the world works, and my parents are sure eager for some more grandchildren. I must have attended a dozen weddings this past year. It’s mystifying. How did all those people get to that point, I wonder. Where did they go to get matched up with their soul mates? You know, every day I work on designer cologne ads that claim to work wonders on attracting the opposite sex. I don’t believe it really works. Here, smell my wrist. Does it do anything to you?”

I was so surprised by his request, I actually leaned forward and sniffed. “It smells a little like my dog’s shampoo,” I admitted. Might as well be honest with the man. After all, he had solicited my opinion.

Aaron laughed until he had tears in his eyes. “Then this isn’t the way to win your heart, is it, Ginny? You just might be right about that scent, but this product costs about eighty dollars more than poodle shampoo.”

“Maybe it’s the same stuff, only in a fancier bottle and a different label,” I suggested.

Aaron pretended to shake his finger at me as if to scold me. “Shame, shame. Are you trying to bring down corporate America with so much truth?” he asked.

“How can there possibly be too much truth in the world?” I asked.

“Touché,” he said. “How long would my agency be alive if we told the naked truth about what’s in these products?”

I considered his question for a moment before coming up with the perfect response. “And how long would my water company be able to operate if we told the public what was really in the water we drink?”

We laughed together, then jousted with a few more witty comments. It felt good to be on an even plane with a member of the opposite sex. I hated playing games, pretending to be shy and coy, struggling for the right words, or afraid to show my wit.

I told Aaron how I’d concentrated on marketing in a business college and had taken a few courses related to advertising. I dropped out after two semesters when money got tight. Mom was widowed and couldn’t help out much, and I couldn’t earn enough from working on a part time basis to finance my education. I was only an average student anyway, so I quit my studies and grabbed the chance to work at the water company when a girlfriend hinted they might be hiring.

“When did your father pass on?” Aaron asked, his voice almost a whisper, as if he didn’t want the people at the next table to hear.

“When I was eleven. Mom somehow managed to keep working at a furniture store all day and still did everything for us,” I said. “Dad had emphysema and was unable to get around much his last few years. That was hard on all of us, but Mom never let us down. When I think now of all she had to shoulder, it’s amazing.”

“She must be quite an accomplished woman,” Aaron said. “I’m sorry to hear about your dad.” He seemed to sense how painful it was for me to talk about my loss.

“Mom’s been through a lot, but she’s about ready to retire now,” I said. “I guess she owes it to herself to indulge on a cruise and let somebody else wait on her hand-and-foot for a change.”

He didn’t ask more about my father. We’d just touched upon a highly charged, emotional subject for me, so neither of us spoke for a few seconds. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, just a natural pause, giving both of us time to regather our thoughts.

Opening up that waterfall of tears about my dad’s death was not something I was willing to do. I tucked that sadness as far back in my memory as I could. Every male who had mattered most to me in life had been taken away. Biff, my high school sweetheart, my first love, had died in a car crash the year before we graduated. He was a popular guy, on the football team, a member of our yearbook staff, on the debate team. He had no faults, or at least I could only remember him as being perfect in every way. We were a rock steady couple. I had always envisioned us getting married after we finished college. Almost a decade later, nobody had measured up to him.

Maybe the pain showed in my eyes. Aaron was watching me with a concerned look on his face. To indicate to me he wanted to change the subject, he slid the packet from the deli across the table. “Do you think this is still safe to eat?” he asked.

I answered I’d decide that when I opened it at home, but I still owed him four dollars. It felt good to get that little debt paid.

Aaron mentioned he was due as his parents’ house for a dinner in less than two hours and he added that I was welcome to join him. . .if I liked baked fish.

I didn’t expect Aaron to spring that sort of major invitation on me after sharing two cups of coffee together. I was just getting to know Aaron, was I ready to sit down to a dinner table discussion with his mother and father present? Was it even normal for a man to invite someone he barely knew to eat a meal with his family? Just two days earlier, I reminded myself, Aaron McCallister had opted not to give me his cell and home telephone numbers.

“Is it some sort of special occasion, a birthday or anything?” I asked.

“Actually, yes. My big brother, his name is Rich, turns thirty-five. He’ll be there with his wife, Evelyn, and their daughters,” he said. With a twinkle in his eyes, he added, “My parents would be thrilled if I showed up with a living, breathing woman!”

How could I turn down such a heartfelt invitation? Wondering if I’d lost my mind, I told Aaron I’d be glad to have dinner with him. “Do I need to change clothes? What about a present for Rich?”

He tapped his jacket pocket. “Not to worry. I’ve got the gift right here. I don’t think you’d be responsible to give a birthday gift to someone you’ve never met before, Ginny.”

“Is it going to be a formal celebration?” I asked.

Aaron laughed. “Formal? Hardly! Your clothes are probably too clean. Bob and Evelyn’s twins are two and we’re likely to encounter some spills, possibly a few tears, and maybe, if we’re lucky, bits of fish thrown around and landing in our hair. We have about a twenty-minute drive to their house inNew Castle. So tell me, do you expect me to keep babysitting this roast beef of yours or do you want to stop by your place first and put it in the fridge?”

The idea of being alone in my apartment with Aaron thrilled and scared me at the same time. Besides not making a habit of picking up men at the deli, I also didn’t invite new men to my place until we knew one another a while. It all boiled down to a matter of trust, and some days I worried I trusted nobody but myself.

   Did I trust Aaron McCallister?

   Maybe.

   Was I throwing caution to the wind by getting into a car with him?

   Possibly.

A voice disrupted my daydreaming. It was Aaron.

“Hellooo. Anybody home?” he asked. “So what about this roast beef?” He waved the little packet in front of my nose.

“Let’s take it along.”

He looked disappointed, but didn’t comment further.

I insisted on paying for our coffees, and Aaron thanked me graciously. Obviously he wasn’t a newcomer to the dating world. If only I could read his mind to find out some highlights of his intimate dating history. Before I could think much about the competition, we headed out of the mall toward Aaron’s car. As if to signal he was a safe bet, he dialed his cell phone and told his mother he was bringing somebody along for dinner.

Soon I discovered this was a man who knew the words to every song. No matter if the radio was tuned to stations presenting rock classics from the ’60s, current hip-hop chartbusters, or Broadway show tunes, Aaron sang along. He wasn’t the least bit shy about singing his private concert to me. I thought back to Dad, who loved jazz and often told me how everyone has some sort of hidden, untapped musical talent.

That was another reason to like him. Not that I needed any more reasons.

During a radio commercial, I tried to move our conversation along a little and asked him about his car.

His brother, Rich, it turns out, was the car freak in the McCallister family. He sold cars, repaired cars, and collected cars. He loved anything on four wheels. Rich had picked out the very car we were in, assuring Aaron it had a great engine, a smooth ride, and that it would be a safe vehicle. Aaron went on to say that Rich had even proposed to his wife in a car.

“Did they get married in a car, too?” I asked.

Aaron laughed. “I guess they would have if the priest had allowed it, but he was happy to see everybody in church that day,” he said. “I was best man and flew back from college for the weekend.”

“What was your major?” I asked.

Aaron slowed down for a yellow traffic light and came to a smooth stop as soon as it turned red. He turned to me, “When I was a kid, what I wanted to be when I grew up was the elephant trainer in a circus. Later, I thought I wanted to be an artist of some sort, maybe a painter, but then in early high school I decided I should teach. I ended up taking a mixture of art and computer graphics courses when I got to college, and well, the rest is history.”

We pulled up in front of an ordinary house on an ordinary, tree-lined street. It was the sort of two-story house any middle-class family might live in. It wasn’t tiny, yet it wasn’t pretentious either. Aaron’s father opened the door and hugged his son. I was welcomed warmly by all, even the boisterous twins, who were eager to climb all over Uncle Aaron.

The family put me at ease, and as we sat around the living room and chatted, I felt myself relaxing more and more.

Their television was off. I liked that. There were books on tables and in bookshelves. I liked that, too. Wonderful smells came from the kitchen, and Aaron’s parents told us it was time to eat.

We filed into the dining room. The table had plastic place mats rather than a fancy tablecloth. I liked that; it felt practical and homey. Maybe Aaron’s mother hated ironing as much as I did. I was rather taken aback that everyone in the family bowed their heads and said grace before digging in. Who had time for that these days?

They certainly had plenty of food. At first I was worried an extra guest might create a problem, but we passed around bowls of potatoes and mixed vegetables. Everyone had tossed salad, and most of us took seconds on fish. The meal was delicious, and I complimented Aaron’s mother, who admitted Evelyn had prepared everything. The twins were on their best behavior and hadn’t bothered to send any food flying our way across the table.

Rich asked Aaron how his work was going in the usually slow summer months, and Aaron mentioned his upcoming business trips. Several of his clients lived aroundSan Francisco, so that was a city he visited frequently. Also, after less than a week back in his office, he’d be flying toNew Orleansfor a three-day conference.

Rich suggested it would be cool if Aaron could visit some jazz hotspots there. Besides being into cars, Rich was a jazz fanatic.

“I’ve never been toNew Orleans, but I’m ready for some Cajun eats,” exclaimed Aaron. “Shrimp gumbo, here I come.”

It sounded scrumptious, but I’d just cleaned my plate for the last time. I was hoping we’d have a little break before cutting the birthday cake.

Aaron handed his slim, bow-topped box to his brother, and that was the cue for Aaron’s mother to excuse herself and get a gift from another room. Evelyn clapped with glee as Rich opened a brown leather wallet. “Aaron, can you read minds or what? This is exactly what Rich told me to buy him when I asked what he wanted.”

“And did you buy me one?” Rich’s eyes met his wife’s.

She leaned over, kissed his cheek and answered, “Of course not, silly. I ignored your wish list, as always.”

We all laughed. My first impression was that Aaron’s family was fun-loving and everybody seemed to genuinely get along. It was rare to experience such a strong family unit. I was impressed. Everyone paid attention to me and had been more than hospitable, so I no longer felt a complete stranger in their midst.

Aaron’s mother reappeared with a big box, which she set in front of Rich. She announced it was from the whole family.

Rich raised his eyebrows then playfully shook the box, which appeared to be filled with nothing but air. He untied the pieces of green ribbon, which he gave to the twins.

All eyes were on Rich. In one swoop, he removed the lid of the gift box. It contained day passes for two adults to a fancy local spa that had just opened.

Both Rich and Evelyn thanked everybody. Next, Rich opened his box from his wife—several jazz CDs. He smiled and kissed her on the nose.

After I helped Evelyn serve the bakery-style cake, I noticed Aaron was yawning. He glanced at his watch as if to signal me it was time to go. I nodded. For not knowing each other long, we were communicating at many levels. Not long later, we said our thanks and farewells, and Aaron guided me toward the door. He was close; I could smell his masculine cologne. Poodle shampoo.

   A warm summer evening, it was still not dark as Aaron and I got into his car. “Your family is very warm,” I said. I meant it. “I admit I had my doubts that this was the best idea, but it turned out great. I enjoyed myself.”

“You fit right in, Ginny, didn’t you? Any regrets?” Aaron asked.

What would I possibly regret about it? I’d dined on a home cooked meal and a fancy yellow cake at the request of a handsome advertising executive. I shot him a puzzled look.

“If you weren’t bored to tears this evening, does this mean you’ll consent to see me again, Ginny?” he said. “I’d very much like to go out with you—and keep going out with you, I might add. I’ve only got two more evenings before I leave forSan Francisco, but if you’d like to see a movie or go for a pizza or anything else, I’m your guy. I can even do mini-golfing if necessary.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes to what? The movie, the pizza—”

“Yes to everything. I’ll go out with you.”

“More than once?” he asked.

“More than once.” I responded.

Aaron put his arms on my shoulders and gently pulled me toward him. Our kiss was brief but tender. It was a kiss with a promise.

Our second kiss was at my front door, and it lasted a little longer than the earlier kiss. Then I turned the key in my door. I didn’t invite Aaron in, and I didn’t worry what he thought about my decision one way or the other. He’d have to understand I take things at my own pace and I still had a few fears about loves lost to conquer.

The following day, we met early, walked around the park, and fed the ducks. We ate ice cream cones and watched kids play volleyball. As usual for a Sunday, the park was packed. After a round of miniature golf, we strolled around and talked about everything under the sun. Afterwards, we shared a pizza in a cozy Italian restaurant.

On Monday, I found it hard to break out of my spell and concentrate on work. What kept me going was the knowledge that Aaron and I were going out for dinner and a movie. I tried not to think that he had a flight out of town the following morning. I clung to his neck when he kissed me goodnight. I made sure I got another kiss.

Aaron and I kept in touch daily by email, and I tried to stay cheerful. I wasn’t trying to scare the guy off by telling him that I missed him. He called me from the airport after landing. “Ginny, I’ve thought about you so often. We have almost a week now. Can I come over?”

I wasn’t ready for that, but I told him I wanted to treat him to dinner. He could stop by my house and we’d walk around the corner to a little Chinese place. He agreed, not even taking his suitcase home first.

We sipped jasmine tea and ordered the roast duck special. And why not? We had something special to celebrate. . .us!

Then, before I knew it, Aaron was headed down to New Orleans. Our plan was to keep in contact by email, so the time zone difference wouldn’t matter. His conference was only a few days.

I heard the news about Hurricane Katrina on the day Aaron’s conference was scheduled to kick off. I was in the cafeteria at work and someone had a radio on. It was too dreadful to be real. I panicked, not just for Aaron, but for the whole city, the entire region, which was being bashed by the raw power of wind and waves and covered with sheets of rain.

Like the rest of the nation, I perched on my couch, glued to the TV, but soon the reports became nothing but a blur of desperate families standing on rooftops, of elderly people being rescued in boats, of billboards down, and cars submerged underwater. When cameras panned the emergency shelters, I looked for Aaron’s face among the crowds, but I didn’t spot him anywhere. I saw mud, I saw tears. I saw helplessness.

Aaron didn’t email. He didn’t call. I knew lines were down, that New Orleans was a city in suffering. I had no choice but to wait. I couldn’t call Aaron’s parents, not knowing his father’s first name, and I thought Aaron had said their number was unlisted anyway.

I called in sick to work. I ached to know something about Aaron, but the entire New Orleans area was cut off from the rest of the world. Without warning, that secret part of me opened up and I poured buckets of tears for my dad and for Biff. And for Aaron. Every man I’d ever loved had been lost. My heart felt ripped out.

I opted to dry my eyes and return to work the following day. All of us in the department stayed glued to the TV. We’d been allowed to bring in a portable television to keep updated on the disaster. Despite happy news of rescues now and then, the reports about New Orleans only got worse. A few times, I closed my eyes and prayed in silence. It couldn’t hurt. A dark cloud had settled over us all.

It was close to a week later that I got a phone call from Aaron. In a crackling connection, he told me he had volunteered in rescue operations for long stretches at a time. His hotel had been badly battered, so he’d been staying miles away at the home of a police officer and his family. He told me when his return flight would be and asked if I wanted to meet him at the airport. His entire family would be there. There was no question in my mind that I’d go.

   Was Aaron the best thing that had ever happened to me?

   Most likely.

   Was he worth waiting for?

   Probably.

   Was he my knight in shining armor?

   Definitely.

What To Consider Before Living Together For the First Time

Young couple Moving in new home and unpacking carboard boxes

Often, in a thriving relationship, there comes a time when you both realize there’s a better way to manage your living arrangements. No more buying a second toothbrush for his place or making closet space for his work clothes at yours. That is the critical point when the only sane and sensible solution is to move in together.

Easy, you might think, we’ll just find a place we both like and take it from there. However, living together is more demanding than you might imagine, so take a rain check on packing your bags and plan some time to think through the significant challenges you’ll be facing. If you’re already sharing a rental apartment together, this might be the moment you decide to buy your first home together.

Location, location, location

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Your arrangements might mean your current homes are relatively close to each other, which is, of course, a good thing because you may be able to find something suitable in the immediate neighborhood that won’t add too much to your commuting time. If you’re already living some distance apart, however, you’ll have to reconsider.

Besides the daily commute, it’s sensible to map out facilities that might be important to you in the future. Will your new home be convenient for local schools, for example, and are the area safety statistics positive and encouraging? If you or your partner do a lot of work from home, might a rural location be a better alternative to a downtown dwelling?

Whatever your situation it’s important to talk things through thoroughly with your partner. That way, you’ll avoid any misunderstandings and will enjoy a shared vision of your future together.

Money matters

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Let’s say you’ve arrived at the solution regarding your ideal location, then the next thing you need to consider is your joint budget. That is a very important factor because if you view and fall in love with a property that turns out to be beyond your means after purchase, it could lead to very severe financial consequences, not to mention a fair amount of heartbreak.

Aim to get pre-approved for a first-time buyer mortgage as a way to judge if your buying power stacks up. Your lender will calculate for both you and your partner:

  • The amount of any debts you have
  • Your credit history
  • Your gross income
  • The level of your down payment.

Those elements will help to determine the price range for any property you plan to buy.

Once you’ve identified one or more suitable properties take the time to make sure they have been inspected thoroughly, so that any potential defects or hazards are flagged up before you sign on the dotted line. When you’re satisfied that everything is as it should be you can then proceed to purchase with confidence.

Financial development

new home choices

After buying a property, it pays to keep saving in case of any unexpected maintenance issues that might arise. Better still, include in your home budget the facility to protect your new property and its systems, such as electrical and water supplies, as well as any appliances you own. Having made such a substantial investment in your new home, you owe it to yourself and your family to look after it. If you purchase a homeowners’ warranty, you’ll have made a failsafe choice that delivers a vital homeowners’ resource.

Just as you might save for college for the kids, put money aside to regularly maintain and update your home. Items do get worn out and it’s easier on your weekly outgoings if you also have a little something put by for minor, unexpected expenses.

Emotional investment

Afro American couple cleaning

As well as investing in the handsome property you and your partner or family will be sharing there is also the matter of making a psychological gear change to adapt to living together in your new home. When you’re living solo or with a friend you develop your own way of doing things, so you need to be ready to adjust to joint or family life, to agree the house rules and keep to them, and to be tolerant of each other’s little foibles.

A good example is agreeing how you will split monthly, daily or weekly chores, such as grocery shopping, paying bills or doing laundry. Who will balance the checkbook and who will take out the recycling? Work together to iron out any household issues in advance and, if a problem occurs, deal with it promptly. With a perfect property, a balanced budget and emotional equilibrium you will be set for a fair shot at happy ever after.

Source: Never Liked It Anyway

Can Illegitimacy Drive Modern Mystery Plots?

Silhouette of pregnant woman

Illegitimacy and the consequential stigmas of extramarital children have played a key role in the works of great authors, including Shakespeare, Voltaire, Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Hardy, to name but a few.

Some noted mystery writers also have used out-of-wedlock birth as a plot centerpiece, including Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. But there’s no arguing that times have changed.

As of 2015, 40.3% of all births in the U.S. occurred outside of marriage (compared with 7% in 1940). And today’s illegitimacy rates are even higher for most European countries. The majority of births (over 50%) are outside of marriage in Iceland, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal, and nearly half of births also are extramarital in the Netherlands, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Belgium, Hungary, Spain, Austria and Finland.

Family Baby Portrait, Young Mother Father Holding New Born Kid

As out-of-wedlock birth has become more commonplace, the social and legal status of illegitimate children, unwed mothers and cohabiting couples has improved. In the United States, for example, U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s found that most legal disabilities imposed on illegitimacy violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Yet extramarital children can still provide mystery writers with murder motives.

Even the old “Secret Shame” plot can be updated. For example, while illegitimacy alone may no longer be as socially unacceptable, illegitimacy resulting from other taboos–such as incest, rape or even adultery–can create a secret that someone will murder to conceal or avenge. Another plot device that still resonates is “The Unwanted Heir.”

When there is an inheritance to divide, even legitimate siblings can turn on each other, and a family outsider who stakes a claim can spark more than rude confrontations. “Cain and Abel” is one of the oldest plots around, so it’s easy to imagine bitter feelings between marital and extramarital siblings going to lethal lengths as they vie with each other for social status, financial gain or parental affection. Finally, there’s the traditional “Revenge” plot. Although many loving couples raise happy children outside of marriage today, there are less sanguine situations in which the violent feelings of a spurned lover, a betrayed spouse or an abandoned child can lead to murder.

For more famous fiction works with an illegitimacy theme, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegitimacy_in_fiction

The Ultimate Single Girl’s Guide To Enjoying Fall

beauty woman

Everyone talks about how the ocean is full of fish after a breakup, whether that was yesterday or last year, and how the winds of change shut a door but open a window. That’s great, but you really don’t care about fishing or crawling out of windows right now.

The winds of change have come with fall, and this season your singlehood is all about you being Lady Robinhood with your band of Merry Leaf Jumpers:

  1. Coffee With Friends + Relaxing Shenanigans

Mid Adult Women Enjoying a Warm Cup of Coffee

Don your best scarves over fluffy sweaters where the sleeves pull over your wrists as your wrap your hands around warm cups of coffee. Fill the warmth waft over your nose as you taste the cinnamon on top of the foam.

Invite your friends out for coffee, and haunt the coffee shop for an afternoon or evening. Bring supplies for shenanigans, including nail polish, adult coloring books, tarot cards and tabletop board games. Let the fun unfold with girlfriends for the price of a cup of Joe.

  1. Cuddle Up With a Good Book and Mulled Wine

Happy young woman reading book by window in fall

Has your stack of borrowed books gotten too high? When was the last time you sat down and dedicated an afternoon to reading a good book? Make it so.

Let yourself get absorbed in an entirely different world, particularly on a chilly, rainy day, with a glass of mulled wine. What will you read? Is it a dystopian romance between a werewolf and a human detective? Is it a nonfiction book about the lives of the Tudors or Marilyn Monroe?

Mulled wine is typically made from red wine, such as Merlot, and heated up with honey/sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks, ginger, an orange and brandy. Your mulled wine can be ready in less than thirty minutes, but some recipes call for it to heat slowly for hours, letting the spicy scents fill your home.

  1. Do a Wine Tasting at a Vineyard

Happy friends having fun an drinking wine in autumn time

It’s fun to relax with friends over a glass of wine at the end of a long week, but why not do a wine tasting at a vineyard? Learn how to properly taste wine with your girlfriends, and enjoy a group meal first to avoid getting a little tipsy and dulling your palate while there.

Small things can also dull your palate and senses when wine tasting, including chewing gum or mints or wearing strong smelling perfume. Dress casual, but avoid couch potato wear, such as yoga pants or sweatpants. When wine tasting, know that it’s okay to sip and even spit your wine out. It seems rude, but many wine connoisseurs sip the wine out to avoid a buzz getting in the way of the taste of wine.

  1. Go Apple Picking

Apples on blanket outside with bike in background

Fall is the season of apple picking, especially October. Look for the closest orchard near you, and get your apple picking baskets ready. There are many kinds of apple varieties, and whoever runs the farm or store at the orchard can advise you which you might like best. To pick an apple, grab at the base and twist — the apple will come right off of the branch.

When you get home, sort your apples together, and choose a recipe to try, such as an apple pie or simple apple slices dipped in homemade caramel.

Don’t forget the bottle of wine you all took home from your vineyard adventure! Prepare a big feast together with an apple recipe for dessert.

  1. Walk a Nature Trail and Watch the Leaves Fall

Female hiker walking under the rays of the sun in the mountain forest

Fall reminds you of how change happens quickly, with the shifting of the leaves from green to gold and red. The season also reminds you that change happens slowly, as you watch a solitary leaf break away from the branch and drift gently to the trail before you.

Get back into nature to be present in your body. City dwellers are at an increased risk for anxiety and depression, and time and nature does the brain good. Studies have shown that spending time in nature boosts your mood and sense of creativity. Bring your camera or sketchbook and capture the beauty.

Change isn’t always a bad thing. Let the fall season teach you about the beauty of change, transition and ultimately personal transformation.

Scoop up a big pile of leaves on a nature trail and jump inside. Go apple picking. Gather friends for a coffee date and play board games or color. Go to a wine tasting, and make mulled wine at home while you read a good book. Lady Robinhood, your band of Merry Fall Jumpers await your fall call into the wild winds of singlehood adventure. What say ye?

By Kasey at Never Liked It Anyway

Pumpkins and Pirates

Teacher With Children On Field Trip

I glanced across the field of pumpkins; the last leg of our pre-school field trip. It was a crystal clear fall day, the air crisp and fresh. An insistent tug on my hand drew my attention.

Allison Morrison frowned up at me, her blond curls bobbing. “Miss Bailey, Josh left.”

“What?” I spun my head around, looking for the dark-haired boy. He was one of my charges.

Besides Allison, two little girls and one boy stood gaping at me. Where was Josh?

“Julie?” I spotted my assistant teacher herding her group of five, but she had no extra charges tagging along. “Have you seen Josh?” I called.

Julie shook her head, her red-gold hair flailing over her back. “No. Is he missing?”

I nodded.

“Maybe he’s with one of the parent groups.”

“I sure hope so.” Just my luck two of the parents who’d signed up to help with this field trip couldn’t make it. Because of that. Julie and I had to keep five four-year-olds in check instead of the usual three or four. The parents who’d come along lagged behind us. I’d only given them three children apiece, including their own.

I turned around. “Gather everyone together. We need a head count.”

After gathering all the parents and children together, we counted, and sure enough, we had one missing child. And it was Josh.

My heart raced as I envisioned a police investigation of the teacher who’d lost a child on a field trip. How could this have happened? I’ve always been extra careful.

I was in full panic mode by the time Julie raced up to me. “Look, Kate.” She smiled, pointing toward a line of pine trees.

Glancing up, a sigh of relief escaped me. A man led Josh by the hand. A hunk of a man. He was tall and lean-muscled, with chestnut-colored hair and a close-cropped beard.

Leaving my other charges in Julie’s care, I raced up to them. “Josh,” I reprimanded. “Where did you go? You had us all worried.”

“I wanted to see if there were bears in the woods.” Josh grinned up at the man, who smiled back.

“We’ve been talking about how the forest helps the earth. Josh, here, is a very perceptive young man.” He rubbed the boy’s dark head.

Suddenly, I felt a bit uneasy. Who was this guy? What if he was a per­vert?

I snatched Josh’s hand. “Well, thank you for finding him, Mr. . . .” I waited for him to introduce himself.

He dropped Josh’s other hand and extended it to me. “I’m Neil Holloway. I work here.”

“Oh.” I flushed, my worries eased. “I’m Kate Bailey, Josh’s pre-school teacher.”

He nodded. “You’re the school tour. I saw you all go by, but I was working in the nursery. I’m to be your guide for the trip to the pumpkin patch.”

“Oh, well that’ll be fine.” Anything coming out of my mouth seemed to be lame at this point. Neil stood close and his spicy, woodsy scent held great appeal.

Get a hold of yourself, Kate; he’s probably married with four kids.

He gestured to the left. “Here’s the hay wagon. If you’d all like to climb aboard, we’ll be on our way to the pumpkin patch.”

The kids cheered as well as a few of the parents. Besides three moms, we also had one dad and a grandma.

Neil took charge, urging everyone into the two wagons. Each had a strong gelding hitched to it, instead of a tractor—one a beautiful cream-colored, the other black. The chil­dren chattered excitedly at the sight of the animals.

I gathered the group together and took another head count. Can’t be too careful. Neil lifted the children and assisted the moms and grand­ma on. After the first wagon was full, he started to guide the rest into the second wagon. I was the last one left.

He turned and smiled. “I’ll help you up.”

I flushed, hoping my face wasn’t beet red. He grasped me around the waist and hefted me up into the bed of the wagon, then jumped up to sit beside me. He waved and the wagon ahead moved off. Ours followed with a jerk. Unable to stop myself, I slid practically into the man’s lap.

“I’m sorry.”

He laughed. The spicy, woodsy scent of him threatened to over­whelm me.

Whoa there, I told myself. I’m on a field trip with my students and some of their parents. This is no time to lose myself in a man, even a virile, great smelling one.

Once the wagons came to a halt, Neil jumped down and lifted me to the ground. My face heated yet again.

As we gathered the children for their jaunt to pick the perfect pump­kin, I turned to find Neil speaking to one of the drivers. He glanced my way and his lips curved into a smile.

Get a grip. He’s probably a happi­ly married man and just likes to be friendly to tour groups.

Julie crept up beside me. “Pick a good one,” she called out to her charges. Then she elbowed me. “Nice, isn’t he?” I followed her glance at Neil.

I shrugged, not wanting to betray my feelings. This was ridiculous any­way—a full-grown woman ogling a guy.

He bent over the wagon bed to retrieve something.

“Ooh,” Julie crooned. “He sure has a cute butt.”

I smiled. I couldn’t exactly deny I’d noticed.

Neil led the children through the patch, so each and every one could find the perfect Halloween pumpkin. I watched as he interacted with the kids. He’d make a great dad, if he wasn’t already one.

Josh returned, apparently  impressed with Neil. “See my pumpkin, Miss Bailey? Neil helped me pick it.”

“Did he now?” I grinned, and Neil returned a smile. He really did seem like a perfect guy.

I clapped my hands so my group would all gather around. “It’s time for lunch. After that, we’ll visit the pet­ting zoo.”

As I settled at the picnic tables with my bag lunch, I couldn’t help but steal glances at Neil. Since col­lege, I’d stayed away from men, wanting to concentrate on my stud­ies. My last steady relationship was in high school. Brad and I had been an item until he broke our date for the prom. I found out later that he’d dumped me for a girl in the junior class. I’d wasted three years on Brad and had vowed that was it. When I was ready to settle down, I’d go looking for a better man, but now the time had come, and I had no clue about how to find the right guy.

My family and friends all seemed to be on the lookout for the one for me, but none of their picks mea­sured up. Over the years, I’d retreat­ed into spending time alone with a good book.

After lunch, I led the group over to the small petting zoo. Goats and sheep grazed in a fenced-in pasture. The kids all screamed with delight and prodded the adults to give them change so they could feed the ani­mals. I rounded up my charges and set them free inside the fenced area, keeping a sharp eye out to be sure none of them wandered away or got hurt by the animals.

Young beautiful girl stands near wooden fence in city zoo

I leaned against the fence and sighed when a presence jolted the fence beside me.

Neil stood practically arm to arm with me. “Having a good time, Teach?”

I grinned. “Well, it’s a nice change from the classroom. But I can tell you I’ll be good and tired when I finally get home.”

He laughed. It was a hearty, mas­culine sound. I liked it. “Where to after this?”

“The gift shop, of course. I’ve a hunkering for fresh apple and pump­kin pie. My mother requested an apple too, so I’ll be buying three, I guess.”

“What kind does your husband like?” He glanced down at my empty ring finger.

“I don’t have one yet.”

“Boyfriend then.. .”

“Nope.” I shook my head.

“Just what I wanted to hear.”

Before I could reply, one of the workers called Neil away. I figured we’d catch up before we headed home. A thrill ran through me when I realized he was interested in me. I’d be sure to catch him before our trip was over.

But as fate would have it, the buses were loaded and there was no sign of Neil. I was heartbroken, but shrugged it off. It probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway. But I had sure been ready to give it a try. In my line of work, the only men I met on a regular basis were the fathers of my students. Although some were divorced, they didn’t hold much appeal for me.

Neil had seemed like a really nice guy who was great with kids. Just the type of guy I’d want to meet.

Julie sauntered up, a pie in each hand. “Guess it’s back on the road.” She glanced around. “Where’s Mr. Hot?”

I smiled. “I suppose you mean Neil? I don’t know where he is. It’s a big place, and he’s likely back to work at whatever it is he does.”

“Did you give him your phone number, at least?”

“Didn’t have a chance to.” I shrugged. “He’s likely married, anyway.”

Julie scowled. “Yeah, the good ones always are. Tough break.”

We boarded the bus, did a final head count, and I sank back into the seat for the ride back to school.

Hours later, I sank into a fragrant tub of bubbles. Field trips always exhausted me, but I tried to schedule as many as I could throughout the school year. It was a great treat, as well as a unique learning experience for the kids.

As I soaked my tired muscles, an image of Neil drifted over me. Maybe I should have gone looking for him before we left, but there hadn’t been time. Besides, the last thing I wanted to do was come off as needy.

No, it just wasn’t meant to be.

A few weeks later, we held our Halloween pageant, the children decked out in their Halloween finery. Apples, candy, and decorations—including spider webs and witches’ brooms — adorned the classroom. The pumpkins we’d collected at the nursery were lined up on the windowsills. The painted faces had been our project over the last couple of days. The kids would be taking their finished projects home today to decorate their own homes.

Julie grazed past me as I tied strings on the take-home bags of candy. “You going to the party at Dave’s?”

I shrugged. “I got an invitation, but I don’t know. I have no idea for a costume.”

“Oh, you’ve got to go, Kate! I’ll come over after school and help you look for a costume. In fact. . .” She clicked her fingers. “I have a cos­tume from last year that would fit you perfectly.”

I frowned. “What kind of cos­tume?”

Before she could answer, a gaggle of kids romped up to collect their bags. The school day was nearly done. “Don’t forget your pumpkins,” I called out.

“I’ll bring it over this afternoon,” Julie said.

At my answering scowl, she added, “You’ll like it, Kate. Stop being such a spoil sport. It’s Halloween, after all.”

I was decorating the window of my condo when Julie drove up. She pulled a garment bag out of her car. I bit my lip, wondering what she had in store for me.

The dress had ruffles and frills and a really low neckline. “What am I supposed to be?” I asked, examining the material.

“A serving wench.”

I frowned.

“You know, like in an 18th century pub. You could be a pirate’s woman.” She grinned.

I wasn’t amused. “I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on.” She poked my arm. “Live a little. I guarantee there’ll be hot, single guys there, all decked out in costume. Think of the mys­tery.”

I groaned. The only mystery I wanted right now was a good novel I could curl up with. I sighed. “All right.” I gathered the costume to take to my bedroom. I’d try it on there.

The gown fit like a glove, maybe a bit too tight. The top of my breasts heaved out the top. I flushed in embarrassment. How could I show up for a party in front of strangers wearing this? But I had no time to look for something else. I’d have to bite the bullet and wear it.

That night I adjusted my costume, trying to push the top up to cover me better, but the corset waist wouldn’t permit it. I grabbed a wool shawl from my closet. At least it would give me coverage until I got to the party. And then what?

I hopped into Julie’s car. “You look great!”

“So do you.” Julie was dressed as a vampiress in a long black gown, her red hair flowing and streaked with a white line. Her makeup was excellent—cheeks a pasty white, contrasting dark eyes and red lips.

She pulled from the parking spot. “I can’t wait to get there. We’ll have so much fun.”

I bit my lip, but resigned myself to go along. It would only be one night. I just hoped I wouldn’t attract any needy creeps. I yanked up the bodice of my gown again, feeling extremely self-conscious.

Julie knocked on the door of the townhouse and was greeted by a guy in a bear costume. I swallowed a laugh as we squeezed past into the living room. Although the house was fairly small, it was jam packed with bodies in all kinds of getups. I spotted a few gray faced aliens, a number of vampires, cheerleaders, a fireman, and a guy in a trench coat. I didn’t want to imagine what he wore—if anything—under it.

Julie broke away from me to greet one of her friends. I glanced around the room, my gaze settling on a tall, well-formed man in the corner of the room by the staircase, dressed as a pirate. Something about him looked familiar. He wore a black eye-patch, had chestnut-colored long unruly locks, and a matching colored—although well-trimmed — beard.

As his eye settled on me, he lifted the patch and grinned. “Well, I’ll be…” He eyed me up and down.

“Isn’t this a coincidence?”

“It sure is.” I flushed self-con­sciously as his gaze roved over my costume. “Julie insisted I wear this,” I said lamely.

“Well…” He lifted his arm. “I’d say a pirate needs a good serving wench by his side. What do you say?”

I smiled. He took my arm and guided me through the crowd to the buffet.

“It looks like we came together.” His warm breath in my ear sent shiv­ers down my spine.

Close-up portrait muscular pirate in the studio on a dark backgroundThe woodsy scent that had attracted me at the nursery was still with him. Apparently, it wasn’t just because he’d been working among the pines. I inhaled deeply. Pressing his hand possessively against the small of my back, he escorted me to the buffet table. Snacks of all kinds filled the tabletop. He lifted two plates in one hand, then let go of me to settle a plate in each of his hands.

“What would you like?” His head swiveled to look oveiritle array.

“Oh. . I don’t know.” I suddenly felt self-conscious again and wasn’t sure I could eat anything at all.

He handed me a plate and started filling the other. He piled chicken, spooned potato salad, and grabbed me a large pickle and a roll. After he’d finished, he handed the filled plate to me and started again. When I hesitated, he glanced at me side­long.

“Is it okay?”

“Sure. I love all this. It smells deli­cious.”

He smiled and I felt like the smile was just for me. He gestured with a nod. “Let’s find a place to sit.”

As we settled on a couple of fold­ing chairs in the living room beside the coffee table, I spotted Julie. Her eyes widened and she nodded. I almost expected her to give me a thumb’s up.

“So,” my pirate escort said, “what do you do when not escorting groups of kids through the pumpkin patch?”

I shrugged. “Oh, you know, the usual pre-school teacher things. We do finger painting, learn about letters of the alphabet, play games. . .”

“But what do you do when you’re out of school?” He spooned potato salad into his mouth, then watched me expectantly.

I flushed. What did I do? “Nothing exciting,” I said. “I read a lot.”

He nodded. “Reading’s good.”

“I guess you do all kinds of out­doorsy things.” I glanced away shyly. He must think I’m a boring person.

“Well, I work outdoors most of the day, so when I get free time, I like to spend it at home, but it would be nice to have somebody there with me.” He eyed me. “Maybe a good serving wench.”

I flushed again. “I don’t know if I’m all that good. I can do your basic cooking, but I’m not that great around a kitchen.”

“Never fear, madam…” He leaned toward me, so close I could almost feel his lips brush mine. “I do know my way around a kitchen and a grill.” He straightened and waved his fork. “In fact, I’d like to invite you over for a barbecue.”

“A barbecue? But it’s the end of October.”

“I’ve been known to barbecue past Christmas. . .providing it doesn’t snow.” He flashed that enticing grin again. “What do you say, m’lady?”

I laughed and lifted the skirt of my costume. “I’m a serving wench.”

“Then what do you say, wench?”

I smiled. “I’d like that very much.”

He reached for my hand and drew me to my feet, then gathered the plates for disposal. “Be right back. Don’t you go away.”

I nodded and stood, waiting for his return. He slid one arm around my waist and led me through the house to the back. A deck stood off the kitchen. Although it was a bit chilly, we stepped out into the starlight. A full moon shone off to the right.

“It’s beautiful,” I breathed.

He gathered me close. “Is it too cold out here?”

“Oh, no. It was getting a little too hot inside anyway.” I glanced side­long at Neil. His presence beside me sent a thrill through me. I hadn’t felt this way with any other man, includ­ing my high school boyfriend.

He lifted his hand and cupped my chin. The roughness of his callused hands excited me. He was a man who worked for a living. A strong man. How could I not be intrigued? I started to wonder what his kiss would feel like.

Before I knew it, his mouth was on mine. His kiss was light and tender, then when I opened to him, he deep­ened it, pressing against my lips, my breasts flattened against his chest. So lost was I in this first kiss, I didn’t notice the doors slide open to another couple.

“Oh, sorry,” a woman’s voice apologized.

We broke away and I glanced over at the couple dressed as a mobster and a flapper.

“It’s okay,” Neil said with a glance at me. “We’re going in anyway.”

I swallowed my disappointment, but we really couldn’t continue the way we were in this setting.

Neil led me back inside. The party was in full swing. Heat rushed to my cheeks at the press of people all around, laughing and conversing. Rock music blared from the speakers in the living room. I suddenly wanted to be alone with Neil, but that wasn’t possible now.

I spotted Julie with her arms around a masked man’s waist. It had to be her current boyfriend, Alex.

As if in answer to my thoughts, he caught my gaze. “Great costume, Kate!”

Julie hit his arm. “Don’t you remember that costume?”

His grin widened. “Ah, yeah…last year, when I dressed as Captain Hook.” Julie shook her head.

“You look good too, Alex.” He wore a long black cape and a puffy shirt. “Zorro, I presume?”

He took off his hat and bowed. “Very perceptive.”

I turned to Neil. “Neil, this is Alex, Julie’s friend. Alex, this is Neil. He works at the nursery.”

Alex nodded and the men shook hands.

A half hour later, I fought to stifle a yawn. It was going on one in the morning, way past my usual bed­time.

“You tired, Kate?” I glanced up to find Neil hovering at my side. He’d hardly left me all night long. Nice to have a man so attentive.

I smiled. “Guess it’s time for this wench to turn into a pumpkin.”

“Can I drive you home?”

I hesitated. The thought was tempting, but I didn’t want to leave my car here. I’d need it tomorrow. I explained to Neil and he nodded.

“Drive safely then. And I’ll call you about that barbecue. If you’d like, I can pick you up.”

“That would be nice, Neil. I look forward to it.”

All the way home and as I got ready for bed, my thoughts drifted to Neil, his scent, the feel of his muscular arms under his shirt sleeves, the thrill of his lips on mine. I very much looked forward to that barbecue.

Neil called the following day to get my address. He promised to pick me up at three. I paced my condo, antic­ipating being alone with him for the first time. How far would it lead?

Neil picked me up and drove me to his home on the north side of town. He lived in a modest town­house that had a charming front porch and a fenced-in garden in the back. A deck was set off the dining room and kitchen, a floor above the garden.

He led me onto the deck and invit­ed me to sit. The grill sat just past the glass doors opposite the seating area. A large tree provided shade for the deck, and potted plants sat around the rails, giving a variety of scents and color.

“It’s beautiful out here.” I glanced around. “And not too cool today.”

He nodded. “Be right back with some drinks. You like iced tea?”

“It’s my favorite.” I sank into a padded lounge chair while Neil returned to the kitchen for our drinks. I wished my place had an area like this. All I had was a small balcony off my tiny kitchen.

Neil grilled steaks and brought out a garden salad and potato salad he’d purchased at the grocers’. “Not skilled enough to make my own potato salad, I’m afraid.”

I grinned. “Can’t blame you there.” I took a forkful. “This is very good.”

“I think so, too.” He glanced at my plate. “How’s the steak?”

“Excellent. You’re right, you are a good cook.”

He smiled. “We’ll have dessert inside. I’m afraid it gets too chilly to sit out here long this time of year. It’ll be getting dark soon, anyway.”

I agreed and helped Neil clean up and get everything inside. We sat at his small dining table to sip coffee and eat pumpkin pie for dessert.

After the first bite, he inclined his head. “Store bought, too.”

“I kind of guessed that.” I nudged his arm. “Didn’t think you were the pie-baking type.”

“No?” He leaned toward me. “Just what type am I then?”

“The grilling steaks, chopping trees, and spreading mulch type.”

He laughed. “This pie reminds me of the first time I saw you.”

“It was only a week ago. How could you forget anyway?”

He reached his arm to cover the back of my chair. “I could never for­get someone like you, no matter how long ago I met her.”

I moistened my lips. “Even though we’ve basically just met, I don’t think I’ll easily forget you either.”

He smiled. “I’m very glad.” He reached for my hand. “Come into the living room.”

We settled on the couch. Anticipation threaded its way through my stomach. I knew what was coming next, and boy did I want it. We kissed for what seemed an eternity, and my core melted into a puddle of pure heat. This was even better than the kiss we shared at the party with all those people around.

After a while, he offered to drive me home. We made plans to see each other again in a few days. We caught all the current movies, went out to dinner, and spent time in each other’s places. By mid November we’d become more intimate, but still hadn’t made love. Neil said the time would come when we were both ready, and he was right. As much as I cared for Neil, I didn’t want to rush things.

On Christmas Eve, Neil told me he was falling in love with me and I told him the same. A week later, we sealed the deal by making love for the first time. It was wonderful, and I was glad I’d held out for him. With my high school boyfriend, I’d never let him get that far, and there was really no one after. . .until Neil.

A year later, on Halloween, we took our marriage vows. He joked about showing up dressed as a pirate with me as a wench, but I was adamant. We were having a tradi­tional wedding. I’d waited long enough and wanted this, as well as my mom. She wouldn’t have stood for anything less.

I sold my condo and now live in Neil’s townhouse. I still teach pre­school, but will gladly give it up to start a brood of my own. Neil can’t wait for the first addition to our new family, either. He’ll be the ultimate perfect dad.

What If Social Media Turns Murderous?

scared female teenager with computer laptop suffering cyberbullying harassment

Social media use has become so ubiquitous that it’s no wonder mystery plots are mining social networking for clues, motives and even psychological weaponry.

follow meOne example is the Social Media Murders Series by Angela Clarke, starting with Follow Me. If you think social media feeds fame monsters, you’ll appreciate a plot in which recent graduate Freddie, who is trying to get her journalism career started via online contacts and posts, bumps into old friend Nasreen, now a police officer, and seeks a scoop by following her to a crime scene where a dead man lies slumped over his computer. Social media-savvy Freddie realizes the victim was a troll and finds the Twitter account of the “Hashtag Murderer,” who takes credit for the murder and posts cryptic clues to the next target, titillating press and public. Freddie and Nasreen are soon in the crosshairs as they race to catch the fame-crazed killer.

other twinOr, maybe you fear that some folks in your social network of “friends” are playing unfriendly games.Then you won’t find any comfort in The Other Twin by L.V. Hay. In the British thriller, Poppy returns home after her sister India dies from a fall off a railway bridge and hacks into her sister’s laptop seeking the truth about her death. Poppy finds a social media world where resentments are played out online, identities are made and remade, and secrets outnumber truths.

 

 

mercedesNow if you’re a person who feels vulnerable to online-savvy miscreants, join tech-impaired, retired Detective Bill Hodges of Mr. Mercedes, the first entry in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy. In an unsolved case at the end of Hodges’ career, the “Mercedes Killer” used a stolen Mercedes to mow down a crowd of people waiting outside a job fair. Miserable in retirement, Hodges is jolted back to life by taunting messages from the killer and drawn into a cat-and-mouse game on an anonymous social media chat site, leading to a race to stop a psychopath.

 

secretsMaybe you’re worried social posts are attracting undesirable followers who’ll try to move from virtual to actual contact. Then you’ll be terrified by The Secrets She Keeps from Michael Robotham. Unwed and pregnant Agatha, who works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store, is fascinated by chic customer Meghan, who writes a droll parenting blog and boasts two perfect children and a happy marriage. When Agatha learns her blog idol is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she approaches the unsuspecting Meghan and sets something terrible in motion.

 

youOr test your social nerves with Caroline Kepnes’ novel You. Beautiful Guinevere Beck shops in a New York bookstore where smitten employee Joe “Googles” the name on her credit card. Joe soon finds all he needs to know from her public Facebook account and constant Tweets. He begins to orchestrate meetings and events designed to push her into his arms, and removes any obstacles to his passion–even if it means murder.

For thrillers featuring social media, check out https://strandmag.com/seven-thrillers-featuring-social-media/

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Does Marriage Kill The Romance in The Relationship?

Not talking to each other

As a wise man once said, “Problems are not stop signs; they are guidelines.” This can’t be truer than in the case of marriage.

During the initial phase, marriage might seem like a bed of roses. One thinks, what can be more fulfilling and satisfying, than spending the rest of your life with the one you truly love? However, as a couple strolls down the lane of life, all the initial love and romance tends to get lost somewhere down the way. As soon as the honeymoon period ends, the couples come face to face with the harsh realities of life.

While on one hand you have to earn the bread and butter for your family, you also have to make sure to fulfill all the duties you owe towards your loved ones. From your parents to children, everyone looks up to you as a couple to fulfill their financial as well as emotional needs. In order to make everyone around them happy, the couples often tend to compromise on their own personal time together. As a result, in a short amount of time they become distant from each other. Love tends to take a back seat and romance becomes non-existent.

Romantic couple holding hands together over candlelight

So is it true when people say that marriage kills the romance in a relationship? No, that is defiantly not the case. While marital commitments often tend to keep a couple busy, they are not the ones responsible for degrading the romance in a marriage. The couple always needs to remember that love and romance are the very basis of a happy marriage. Hence, there are a few things that one can do in order to keep the romance in a marriage alive:

 

  • Sweet and small gestures: you do not need to make an elaborate show to remind your husband or wife that you love them. You can keep the romance alive by doing small gestures like leaving stick on notes on their cupboards, office bags, refrigerators etc. expressing your love to them. You can go a step ahead by preparing their favorite meal, or giving your spouse a surprise gift or flowers.
  • Marriage dating: Marriage dating is one of the finest ideas to keep your married life alive and kicking. Take your spouse out on a date, just the two of you. Spend some quality time together, doing your favorite things. Relive your courtship period. Nothing can be more romantic and de-stressing for you as a couple.
  • Appreciate and respect your spouse: your husband or wife need and deserve your respect. Make sure to thank them for the efforts that they put in in order to keep your lives running and happy. This small gesture will surely increase their love for you.
  • Express your love: though you both know that you love each other, still it is important for you as a couple to express you love. Never miss a chance to tell your husband or wife that you love them. By merely saying “I love you” every day, you can make your spouse fall in love with you over and over.

 

Romance in a marriage never gets lost. However, it is up to you to rediscover it and keep it alive. All the best!

Remember This One Thing When You’re Single

Pensive lonely young woman sitting on beach hugging her knees and looking into the distance with hope

“There are plenty of fish in the sea,” someone will probably tell you immediately after a breakup. But why? Is it because they don’t know how else to comfort you or express that they’re there for you, and this is one of those trusted and reliable cliches that never fails for some reason? Or is it because they know you have an insatiable love for deep-sea fishing? I’ll give you a hint: it’s probably not the latter.

Why do we (as a society) place such an importance on being constantly romantically involved with somebody? And not only that, why do we let it determine the worth of ourselves and others as well? When you’re seeing somebody, you might get a pat on the back or some sort of variation on the statement “Congrats, good for you!” When you’re not, people may question what’s wrong with you, and ultimately hit you with some sort of statement of pity and reassurance (“don’t worry, there are plenty of fish in the sea…and not all of them will give you mercury poisoning like your last fish-boyfriend”). What if I told you that you don’t need to be reassured about your relationship status, because there is nothing wrong with being single? You might think, “Well, duh!”, but if that’s how we all really feel, why is the hallmark of being a twenty-something unfailing desperation for a romantic relationship? It’s because we are made to feel, sometimes subliminally, that there is sense of urgency to our relationship status and our romantic lives, when in reality, there is not.

I’ve had distant family, basic acquaintances, and even my dental hygienist ask about my love life (the only question that they have the right to ask is if I floss enough…and I think they already know the answer to that). And what’s more is that they will probably never stop asking, since most people believe they mean well when they do. So the only thing you can do is keep this one thing in mind when they do, the single most important thing to remember when you’re single: it’s perfectly normal. The only urgency in life is to loving yourself and living the life you have imagined, and whether that involves another person or not is your prerogative! So let’s all make an effort to stop telling people how many eligible fish there are in the sea…sometimes, you just want to swim alone.

By Brianna Porter at Never Liked It Anyway