A Seductive Menu that will Leave Him Weak at the Knees

Portrait of young couple kissing at home and eating popcorn

You’ve done the legwork, you’ve flirted and you’ve finally convinced him to pop around for a home-cooked dinner. You don’t feel that your mom’s recipe for ‘macaroni and cheese’ will do the trick, so you plan to prepare something that is sure to bowl him over. However, you have no idea what it is that you want to cook…

He fell for your beautiful, soft skin, the way you laugh and the way in which you tuck your hair behind your ears. You loved the way he looked at you and how he gently held your hand. You’ve moved past the giddiness of a first date and would like to do something special, for just the two of you. You’ve decided on a romantic dinner that is rich in flavor, but light enough to ensure that there is plenty of time for meaningful conversation, dancing in the moonlight and maybe even a dizzy make-out session on your sofa. If you’re still searching for meal ideas, look no further! Here are a few that you’re both bound to love:

Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail with Bruschetta

Two glasses of champagne with pomegranate seedsSimple to prepare, light and refreshing, pomegranate champagne cocktails only require three ingredients – semisweet champagne, pomegranate cordial/syrup and pomegranate seeds. Paired with homemade bruschetta that is smeared thick with cream cheese and some roasted tomatoes, this finger-food feast is sure to get his appetite going. Be sure to toast the bruschetta in a pan with some olive oil before layering on your chosen toppings. Perhaps you could lay out two or three toppings and encourage him to make up a slice for you? The opportunities to make romantic advances and endless!

Lemon and Roast Caper Tuna Carpaccio

Tuna CarpaccioLight enough to leave you feeling comfortable yet satisfied, this idea for a lemon and roast tuna carpaccio is ideal for an evening when you want to impress. Search for recipes that are simple enough to prepare at home, and be sure that your chosen cut of fish is finely sliced before you even leave the grocery store. You can prepare and plate this course before you start to get ready, popping it in the fridge to ensure that it remains fresh.

 

Chocolate Covered Strawberries & Vanilla Cream

Homemade Chocolate Dipped StrawberriesChocolate covered strawberries – the ultimate romantic dessert which you can either buy or prepare at home. If you do choose to prepare these babies in your own kitchen, be sure to do so the day of your dinner date to avoid the chocolate getting too tough and the strawberries from going soggy. Whip up a small dish of vanilla cream and you’ve got yourself the perfect gateway to absolute delight!

Once you’ve prepared the dinner and set the table, be sure to run a warm bath in which you can soak. Make use of a fragrant beauty bar to cleanse and soften your skin. When choosing your skin care products, be sure to select a delicately fragranced beauty soap that will leave a delicious, lingering scent on your body. Between you and the tasty food, your man won’t know what hit him!

I’m 22, He’s 64–And We’re Crazy In Love!

Mature man with young woman smiling at each other

Don’t judge us before you read this!

It was six a.m., and my regular crowd was keeping me hopping. That was good news, I reflected. I’d owned the little coffee shop for almost three years, and it had served me well. My customers seemed to like the food and the style of my shop. We treated all of our customers special and didn’t rush them through their meals. Most folks appreciated that, and I appreciated their business.

Ever since I’d opened I had tried to develop a rapport with each person. I’d try to find something we had in common, whether it be books or movies or information in the news. I genuinely looked forward to keeping up our running conversations over weeks and months.

But no one person or one day mattered to me as much as Bill and Friday mornings. Every Friday, Bill would arrive early to have coffee and biscuits with his friends. He’d stay late and sip iced tea with me while I took my break. I grew to look forward to our visits. I felt we had a lot in common, and we shared the same wry sense of humor.

Every once in a while, Bill would bring me a box of chocolates or a new magazine, or some such nonsense. Once he even brought me a bouquet of flowers because the Winn-Dixie was having a sale. I knew he’d meant nothing by those gestures, though they meant the world to me. I treasured every bit of my relationship with him.

And I enjoyed our conversations the best. He made me laugh and had a wealth of history in his life that I never tired of hearing about. He flirted gently, mainly just teasing me with his twinkling blue eyes. Once he gently clasped my hand when I was sick. With a concerned gaze, he told me everyone in town could fix their own breakfast for once, that I needed to get home.

I found Bill to be one of the most attractive and charismatic men I’d ever met—and I’d met a lot of great guys during college and in the restaurant. Our only problem was that he was an older man . . . a much older man—as in, forty-one years older. He was sixty-three to my twenty-two. He was married the year I was born. He was old enough to be my grandfather.

And I was in love with him.

I glanced at the clock. Seven a.m. Any minute now the regular early morning crowd would be taking off, and I’d take my break with Bill. As I watched the group of four men depart, I waved to each one, then poured myself a cool glass of sweet tea and wandered over.

“How are you today?” I asked. “Anything new?”

He smiled. “Nope. Though I’d better get moving soon, if you know what I mean.”

His comment took me by surprise. “What? It’s only seven. You always stay until eight or nine.”

He rolled his coffee cup between his large, wide palms. “I know that, but to tell you the truth, I’ve been kind of wondering about my being here so much.”

I scanned his face again. Something was definitely different. “Bill, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Becca.”

“Then why are you talking like this?” I asked with more than a touch of fear in my voice. “What happened?”

To my surprise, a faint blush rose up his neck and cheeks. “Nothing you need to worry about, Becca. It’s just nonsense about me being here so much.”

On the contrary, I didn’t think he came around often enough. “But you practically only come in on Fridays.”

“I think you and I both know I’ve been here a little bit more than that. Shoot—last week alone, I was here on Wednesday for dinner and Saturday for lunch.”

That didn‘t sound like too much! “A guy has to eat.”

“There are other places, Becca.”

“I know that, but I also know that other people eat here just as often. And I honestly do appreciate everyone’s business.”

Bill took a fortifying sip of coffee and met my gaze. “I’m going to be honest with you, even though it’s hard to say. Becca, honey, if you want to know the flat-out truth . . . I don’t always come in just for food. I come in to see you.”

That made me happy! Really happy. “I like seeing you, too.”

“I’m afraid there are people who don’t see our relationship as innocent as it is. Matter of fact, I’m thinking that some people have turned our friendship into something kind of ugly and twisted.” He laughed hollowly. “People are saying that we’re having an affair. Can you imagine?”

Oh, yes, I could! But I knew I couldn’t say such a thing to Bill, so I scooted a little closer to him and decided to do my best to tell him how I felt.

First, I quickly scanned the rest of the restaurant. Kendra was looking at us strangely, but she was taking care of the two tables in the front. I knew I was going to have to go help her take care of the second morning wave in a few minutes.

“I don’t care that people are talking about us, Bill. I really don’t. They just need something else to occupy their minds.”

“Becca—”

I held up my index finger and daringly pressed it against his lips to silent him. “To be honest, when you come in, my nerves awaken and my whole body feels excited. I do like you, Bill. I like you more than just as a friend.” I leaned forward and met his startled gaze head-on. “I like you the way a woman likes a man.”

Poor Bill went white and looked like he was about to fall off his chair. “You don’t know what you’re saying,” he whispered.

“I think I do. And I think you’ve felt the same way.”

“It doesn’t matter whether I have or haven’t,” he sputtered. “Becca, I’m sixty-three years old!”

I couldn’t help but smile. “I know that. I bought you a puzzle for your last birthday. Don’t you recall?”

His shoulders slumped. “That was you giving a sweet gift to an old man.”

“Don’t you remember what I said on the card?”

He looked away, telling me in every way that he did, indeed, recall my words.

“I wrote that all you had to do,” I reminded him, “was name the date and I’d work on that puzzle with you . . . by your side.”

Bill stared at me silently for a good long while. I knew he was desperately trying to think of something, anything, that would sound reasonable to me but not reveal his true feelings. He had no idea, however, how much his piercing blue eyes revealed of his soul.

“At this time in my life, no one is going to pay me much mind. But you—you’re a young girl. A relationship with me, even an overly friendly one, could damage your reputation for years.”

He cleared his throat. “Right now, you might not care about that. Right now, you might be thinking of only today. But I’ve lived a long life, and I’m here to tell you that what you’re suggesting is something that you would regret for years and years to come.”

“I’m not a girl, Bill. I’m a woman, and I know what I want.” Feeling brazen, I leaned forward, close enough that the tips of my breasts skimmed the opening of his jacket. A smoky haze filled Bill’s blue eyes. Instinctively I knew he was just as aware of my body as I was his.

That slight connection sent yet another round of shock waves through me. I felt breathless and exhilarated. “And, Bill, here’s something else to think about: I don’t need you now or tomorrow. I’m willing to wait for you. Until you want me in your life badly enough that you don’t want to wait anymore, either.”

Bill pulled back, breaking our tenuous contact. “I’m going to go,” he whispered.

“See you tomorrow?”

“I don’t know.”

“You can’t hide from what we feel, Bill,” I said with far more attitude than I felt. “It will still be there, just waiting for us to bring it out in the open.”

And with that, I turned around and went back to the counter, keeping my face down so as not to meet anyone else’s gaze. I suddenly felt embarrassed, and more than a little mortified at what I’d just done.

Because I had just realized that I’d probably not only ruined any chance I might have had of being with the man I loved, but now we might not even be friends!

What had I done?

I worked my shift and went home to my lonely apartment on the second floor of an old duplex in town. I usually found it quite cozy; I’d decorated it with shades of blue and green and had a number of soft quilts scattered around for added comfort. But to my eye, just then, my place only seemed rather sad and neglected.

Would I ever be at a place in my life when I actually had time to fuss with my things? To rearrange furniture, or think about painting a wall? It sure didn’t seem like it was in my future anytime soon. All I ever did was go to work, attend church, run errands on my day off, and do an occasional puzzle when time allowed.

Some days I just felt like I went through the motions, never having time to stop and appreciate my life or my accomplishments. With a sigh, I plopped on the couch and tried to read a romance novel I’d picked up at the store.

Days passed, and Bill didn’t show up at the diner. Several of his friends did, though, and they pointedly cast speculative looks at me when I served them their coffee and breakfasts. It was all I could do to keep a lighthearted smile on my face and act like I didn’t have a care in the world. In truth, I was worried sick.

a blonde waitress delivers a meal to her customersSuddenly I wondered if perhaps Bill hated me now. Or maybe he’d made a joke to his friends about my “puppy love,” and they were all laughing about me behind my back. I really couldn’t think of another reason he wouldn’t visit the diner three days in a row. To the best of my knowledge, that had never happened before.

But what if he was sick? I knew he didn’t have family in town; that was one of the things we’d talked about, how we were alone in New London, Texas. What if he was home sick, all by himself, and was too proud to call for help?

I realized I’d have to swallow my own pride to ask the men I was serving coffee about Bill. So what if they laughed at me?

With a determined step, I approached Bill’s friends. “Jim, Mr. Conner? Do any of you know where Bill is?”

All talk at the table ceased. It felt like the whole diner had suddenly become silent. But, to my surprise, neither Jim nor Mr. Conner started grinning mischievously, and none of the men cracked a joke or made light of my inquiry. Instead they each looked at me with concern and genuine affection.

“Come sit a spell with us, Becca,” Jim offered.

Hesitantly, I slid next to Mr. Conner. I didn’t say a word; I didn’t have any idea what they were thinking, and I couldn’t forget that, no matter what happened between Bill and me, I would still see them all on a daily basis. I couldn’t completely forget about the rest of the world.

Finally, Mr. Conner spoke. “Lately, quite a few people have noticed you and Bill visiting quite a bit.” His two bushy eyebrows rose slightly. “And people have been saying it was real friendly-like.”

That, I could answer. “I have been sitting with him as much as possible. We have a lot in common.”

That won a few chuckles. “Is that right?” Mr. G. asked me from the other corner of the booth.

“We both like to read mysteries and do puzzles. Neither of us have family here. I like to cook, he likes to garden.” I shrugged. “I’d say we actually do have quite a lot in common. Wouldn’t you?”

The men looked uncomfortable.

“Becca, Bill doesn’t know what to think of this attention,” Mr. Connor said.

“I told him what I thought of it in a private conversation a few days ago.”

“Bill didn’t share your exact words, but I will tell you that whatever you said did catch him off guard.”

I felt chagrined. “Mr. Conner, I know this is a strange conversation, but what if I told you that I like this man in a romantic way?”

“I’d say you were a fool.”

“What if I said that Bill makes me smile? That I feel comfortable with him?”

“Plenty of men your own age for that,” he retorted. He shared a smug look with his buddies.

I’d had enough. I slid out of the booth and smiled grimly at the quartet of men. I knew they cared about Bill and didn’t want to embarrass him. They cared about me, too—but now that I had admitted my feelings, I didn’t see any reason to hold back any longer.

“Listen, most guys my age don’t interest me. Sure, their bodies may be younger, but that isn’t what attracts me to a man. I want to be with a guy who isn’t trying to figure himself out, who doesn’t have to work sixty hours a week to prove to some middle manager that he’s worth a promotion. I want someone who wants to hear what I have to say and not just tell me his views. Bill does that. We’re close.”

The men looked stunned. Finally, Jim narrowed his eyes at me. “This isn’t some flighty kind of thing, is it?”

“No, sir, it’s not.” I set my hands on my hips. “I don’t know if anything will ever become of Bill and me. Who knows, maybe we’re just destined to be friends. Maybe he looks at me and just sees a child.

“But I know how I feel when I look at him, and I think it’s worth my time to at least investigate my feelings a bit. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Mr. Conner ran his fingers through his salt and pepper hair. “Do you mind if I share some of this with Bill?”

“It depends.”

He smiled at my spunk. “On what?”

“On what you intend to do with this information,” I said audaciously.

He laughed. “I think I’m going to use it to remind Bill that he’s still got a lot of living to do.”

“Well, in that case, I think you’d better share as much of this conversation with him as you possibly can!” I quipped.

The men chuckled again. I wandered back to the counter, wondering if I had just messed everything up for good. What if Bill now avoided me like the plague? I hated to think that might happen.

I went home from my shift exhausted, took a short nap, then awoke when the doorbell rang. Hurriedly, I smoothed back my long blonde hair just before I unlocked the door.

Right in front of me stood Bill!

“Becca.”

“Hey,” I said, at a complete loss of words.

He stepped forward, then pulled out the puzzle I’d given him, all those months ago. “May I come in?”

I stepped back and watched him gingerly step into my place. Then, as I closed the door, I realized that he had every reason to be wary; we were both on unfamiliar ground.

But the instant I was alone with him I became aware of his tangy, citrus-scented cologne. He was such a handsome man to me; he reminded me a lot of John Wayne. A large, solid male, with piercing eyes and a slow, steady grin. To think that he might even possibly be interested in me the way that I was interested in him gave me chills.

“Would you like to sit down?” I motioned toward my sofa and loveseat. “Coffee? Tea?”

He shook his head. “You don’t have to serve me here, Becca.”

“I know I don’t have to, but you’re a guest in my home. Of course I’d like to serve you. Now, may I get you anything?”

“Just yourself.”

Never before had Bill tried to bridge the fragile gap that separated us. Now that he was testing the chasm, I felt like I needed to hold on with all my might.

He sat down on the edge of the couch next to me. “I have to tell you, I haven’t worried about so much in years.” He scratched his head absently. “Even back when I owned the hardware store, I can’t recall staying up so many nights.”

I didn’t know whether to apologize or grin like crazy. Instead I tried to act casual, though I probably failed at that, too. “I’m sorry if I’ve caused you a lot of trouble, Bill. That certainly was never my intention.”

“I know that.” His eyes met mine. “You have nothing to worry about. It’s my feelings that have been a little crazy, I’m afraid.”

“What have you been feeling?”

“Like a silly old man, if you want to know the truth.” His eyes crinkled as his grin widened. “I keep waiting for someone to jump out of a corner and call me an old fool.”

My heart warmed. “There’s no one here but me, I promise.”

And?”

“And the last thing in the world I’m going to tell you is that you’re a silly old fool.”

Our sincerity made us both blush. Frantic to find some common ground, I gestured toward the puzzle on the coffee table. “What did you bring?”

“The puzzle you gave me. I thought maybe we could work on it together, as you suggested.”

“Here?”

“Yeah. Where I live . . . where I live, I’m afraid your visit would be a major attraction.”

I forced myself to step back and see this relationship from his perspective. There was a very real possibility that my campaign to become involved with Bill had embarrassed him terribly.

“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” I said softly. “I don’t know how you feel about me.”

“Becca, I fought in a war; I owned my own business; I was married for thirty years. I also have two children and one grandson. I’ve never felt as uncertain as I do right now. I have no idea how I feel.”

None of that sounded good. I’d practically ruined his life! I needed to let him go before I ruined our friendship completely. “Oh. Well, then—”

“But I know that I like being with you. You’re fun and you’ve got a good heart. And . . . that you’re just about the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a long, long while.”

I caught my breath. “Thank you.”

“I don’t understand why you’re not with a younger man,” he continued, his blue gaze warming. “But, right now, at this time, I’m not going to care. Right now, right this minute, I’m going to take what you’re offering and hang on tight. I’m not dead yet.”

His admission, given so stark and raw, made me laugh. That’s why I liked Bill so much. Slowly, I held my hand out to him. “No, you’re not, Bill. Not by a long shot.”

As our fingers touched, I swear I felt a tiny little spark ignite between the two of us. Suddenly, I felt alive and vibrant. When his time-worn, rough fingers caressed my own, the touch felt more personal and intimate than the craziest night of sex, because we were baring our souls, not our clothes. And our souls were far, far more personal.

I served us some wine and we sat at my kitchen table and worked on the puzzle. We talked about his kids and my job. I told him about growing up as an only child. He told me about Brenda, his sweet first wife, and her battle with cancer.

Before we knew it, it was midnight. Bill stood up reluctantly. “I better get going. If I don’t hurry home, someone’s certain to send out a search party for me.”

“All right. Thank you for coming over. I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”

Bill clasped my hand again and squeezed it. “You don’t need to tell me. I already know.”

I walked him to the door, my stomach feeling as fluttery as a high school girl’s. My hand was still entwined in Bill’s, and I felt as romantic and cherished as if he had enfolded me in his arms and told me I was the world to him.

And, then, all of the sudden, he did pull me into his arms. He pressed his lips to mine, and as I tasted his minty breath and reveled in our kiss, his other hand brushed back my hair from my neck. I felt treasured and special, so many feelings I’d been waiting a lifetime to experience.

“That was nice,” he said when we broke apart after a few minutes.

“You sound surprised,” I teased.

“Not surprised. Bemused might be more like it.” He met my steady gaze. “I never thought I’d feel this way about another woman. I thought Brenda was going to be it for me.”

“I never thought I’d ever feel this way about anyone,” I confessed. “I thought I’d never meet a man who I wanted to be so close to.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Whatever you want, Bill. If you don’t want anyone to know about the two of us for a while, I guess I can deal with that.”

“That hardly sounds fair.”

It wasn’t. I wanted to yell out to the whole town of New London that Bill had just wrapped me up in his arms and kissed me senseless. But I also knew we had a lot of obstacles to overcome before we ever did more than work on puzzles and kiss goodnight.

“I waited a long time to tell you my feelings,” I finally said. “I can wait a little longer.”

“My kids, even though they’re not nearby . . . well, I don’t know what they’re going to say.”

I knew his children were older than me. “Maybe you won’t have to tell them a thing for a while,” I suggested softly.

Bill looked skeptical. “I’ll think about it. And Becca?”

“Yes?”

“I had a great time tonight.”

“So did I.”

I softly closed the door and practically waltzed into my bedroom. Bill had actually paid me a visit tonight—and kissed me passionately! Wonders never ceased.

The next few days were chaotic and interesting, to say the least. I was on the receiving end of more than a few curious glances and whispered comments.

Bill did come into the diner, but he blushed when we so much as exchanged glances, so I kept my distance. As time progressed I began to feel I’d embellished our night to outlandish proportions. Maybe I had just thought he cared more for me than he actually did.

Maybe I had just imagined that he had been moved by that kiss. I made myself face the almost certain truth: Bill had probably looked at himself in the light of day and had decided that nothing was worth the trouble I’d bring into his life.

I resolved to keep a sunny smile on my face, but it was hard because I felt like crying. What was I going to do without him?

And then, finally, after four days of not knowing what to do, Bill stopped by during a slow period at work. His eyes were twinkling and he was smiling.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I’ve been talking to my son and daughter about you. And Brenda over at the cemetery.”

I steeled myself for his rejection. “Oh.”

“I told my kids that I’ve done everything that was expected of me. Now I want to do something for me.” He shrugged. “I told them that at my age, I thought I had that right.”

I still wasn’t really following him. “Am I . . . that something?”

“You definitely are,” he retorted with a chuckle. “And, like a hen at a farm, I went and talked about you to my buddies, as well.”

“No wonder I’ve been getting such strange looks!”

“I don’t think they were strange looks, because my buddies told me the same exact thing that my kids did.”

“And what was that?”

“To follow my heart. Again.”

Hope swept through me. “Really?”

He chuckled. “Really. I’m sorry I’ve been such a fool. I should have done this in the first place, without ever asking my kids or my friends for permission.”

“Done what?”

“This.” He pulled me close to him, right there in the middle of my diner. “And this,” he murmured, right before he kissed me.

“And this,” he finally said as he lifted his lips from mine. “I like you a lot, Becca. Will you be my girl?”

Tears came to my eyes. “There isn’t anything I’d rather be,” I murmured. “I’d love to be your girl. Today and always.”

And that is how I fell in love with a man old enough to be my grandfather. And just in case you’re wondering what happened to us, we just celebrated our first anniversary last night. Things between Bill and I are just absolutely wonderful.

Thank goodness we both were brave enough to share our feelings one day, so long ago. Thank goodness we looked in our hearts to find out what we had in common . . . rather than focus on our dates of birth.

Make Him Fall For You In 10 Easy Steps

Couple on steps in rain, man carrying young woman, eyes closed

Sometimes it can be difficult to find that perfect man you’ve always wanted to share your life with. If you’re in love with a man and you want him to have the same feelings, there are things you can do to increase his fascination for you. You should not change your personality just to make a guy you’re attracted to feel comfortable. If you really want to make him fall head over heels, you must try to understand him and his way of being, and use that to your advantage. But keep in mind that the feeling must be mutual. How to make your love life better without getting hurt? These 10 strategies can help.

1. Be attractive

When you’re in the company of the man you love, dress attractive so that you can grab his attention. If you see him smiling or not taking his eyes off of you, you have an advantage. If he sees those around admiring you, it will make him want you even more. Men can be very competitive when it comes to women. Try to make yourself noticed and he will be all yours.

2. Appreciate and respect him

Men are looking for appreciation and respect. When he organizes something special – be it something small or big – let him know that you notice and greatly admire him for his effort. If he sees that his gestures make you happy, he will never stop adoring you and you’ll have everything you ever wanted – love in marriage and in a relationship.

3. Make eye contact

Passionate eye contact can make people fall in love in a second. When you’re talking with him, gaze into his eyes; he’ll know that he caught your attention. It will flatter him for sure and he will desire you with all his being.

4. Soft touches

Girl sitting on boyfriends lap.

If there’s a way to make a man fall in love with you, this is it! Men can’t resist a woman’s soft touch. When you are with him, make simple gestures like hold his hand, hug, or just flip your hand through his hair; let your soft touch persist for a moment and he’ll inevitably be wowed by you. A warm touch can be extremely exciting for the man you love, and you’ll spark a dreamy attraction in no time.

5. Don’t let him see you’re in love

Men love to divide and conquer. They need some time to admit their feelings, but when they do, there’s no way of going back. To make someone fall for you, let them know that you’re attracted to them; but don’t become too clingy – men hate persistent women. Always make him feel uncertain about how serious you are, and let him make the first step into a real relationship.

6. Don’t approve him all the time

A perfect relationship is based on compatibility; this doesn’t mean that you have to accept everything he does or says. Sometimes, a petty disagreement can make him see your strong personality and respect your point of view. Don’t let common relationship problems others have get in the way of your happiness.

7. Have intellectual conversations

Couple on Yacht

Flirty discussions are cute and delightful, and he will adore the fact that he can make you blush. On your romantic dates, connect with him on an intellectual level. Talk with him about career opportunities, aspirations and ambitions, and let him taste the feeling of sheer happiness. Exploring intimacy in relationships is also fundamental to building a strong, unbreakable bond.

8. Showcase your talents

If you want to make a man fall in love with you, surprise him! He certainly likes you for who you are; but to completely impress him, let him know that you have many hidden talents waiting to be discovered. Amaze him with things you like to do – be it dancing, cooking, singing, or any other foolish things you’ve never showed anyone. Give him an opportunity to discover the real you.

9. Be charming

Men can’t resist a charming smile. Be warm, loving and sweet when you’re around him, and he’ll end up adoring you. If you want to win a man over, blush when he compliments you or flirt discreetly by flipping your hair and smiling. If he is attracted to you, he will want to wow you with his sense of humor and epic stories. Don’t forget about communication in relationships; this is key if you want him to commit and be happy.

10. Don’t be offensive

Men don’t like arrogant, proud women. They certainly love a woman who can have an opinion, but if she wants to exude her arrogance and superiority, for sure he’ll refuse to fall in love with her.

Are you ready for a long-lasting relationship? Are you ready for love and marriage? Then you should put yourself out there. Make him fall head over heels with the tips we’ve mentioned above, and you have the highest chances of attaining genuine happiness.

By Sylvia Smith at Never Liked It Anyway

(From Never Liked It Anyway, the number one destination for all things break-ups and bounce-back! It’s the place to buy, sell and tell all things ex! Sell your breakup baggage, tell your story and join the community of rock stars bouncing back better than ever! )

Starstruck Romance

As her Second Acts Dating Service truly takes off, Cynthia Amas discovers that in the heady world of high-end Hollywood romance, with success comes complexity. In this wildly seductive romp through the lush canyons and lavish neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the line between business and pleasure quickly blurs in a dizzying rush of sex and celebrity.

Just as our heroine’s uncanny genius for matching up her growing roster of exclusive love seekers continues to deepen, her own love life reaches a fever pitch.

Things get complicated. And funny. And excruciatingly sensual.

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From Kirkus: An intrepid young matchmaker in Hollywood sparks chemistry with an old flame, an ex-flame and an A-list actor, all while finding love for her clients in this engaging romance. Cynthia Amas has no trouble juggling her new dating service and a slew of fresh clients from among the Hollywood elite. Her best friend, the outspoken Lolita, has her hands full running a dog-grooming business catering to the stars and managing her three dogs of varying sizes and temperaments, who bring her juicy gossip (at least she hears them talking!) Read More

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Love, Lies & Dating: Will This Relationship Go Up in Smoke?

Dear Second Acts;
I have been seeing a gorgeous guy for a while. He’s a trial lawyer and a good one. He is passionate about his work and about me. There’s really just one problem, but it’s a big, fat, stinky one. He smokes cigars. Now I know there are lots of women who like cigars, or at least pretend to. I know they’re supposed to make a man look powerful and sexy and all that, but I find them unbelievably disgusting. Read More

10 Sexy Minutes On My Pastor’s Hotline!

Closeup abs of man wrapped in towel as he texts

I started speaking with the stranger on the phone, even when I knew I should transfer him directly to the minister. But I couldn’t help myself; there was something about his soothing, deep voice that called to me. It made me yearn to be a better person than I was. His voice encouraged me to take risks, made me yearn to have a connection with a complete stranger . . . if only for a little while.

He didn’t know the struggles I’d had with my weight or my extreme shyness with the opposite sex or my difficulties maintaining friendships with other girls.

I was a volunteer at the church, helping out by answering phones on Fridays. The work helped to take my mind off my personal problems. But when I first heard that sweet, husky, masculine voice speak on the other line, I knew all my efforts to shut myself off from the world were a complete failure. I was

The man sounded desperate. I glanced toward our minister’s door, which was still closed. That was a sign that he didn’t want to be interrupted. Usually, when his door was closed I took messages, but some sixth sense cautioned me to keep this man on the line for as long as possible. I was truly afraid to think what he would do if I hung up too soon.

“Are you okay?” I asked as gently as possible.

He sighed heavily. “No, if you want to know the truth.”

I was drawn to him, drawn to his sad, hopeless tone and to his honesty. “Anything you want to share?”

“Not especially.”

He sounded so put out. I’d been that way many a time—depressed and sick and tired of feeling that way. It was a vicious cycle.

“Bad morning?” I asked gently. Everyone has those.

He chuckled in a wry way that seemed to say, You don’t know the half of it. “Yeah, it was a bad morning. In fact, I’ve had a pretty tough day.”

“What exactly is wrong? Maybe I could help.”

“Well . . . you’re going to laugh.”

What a strange conversation! That was the exact opposite of what I thought he’d been going to say. But it gave me hope that perhaps he wasn’t in as bad a place as I originally thought.

“I won’t. I promise,” I vowed.

“If you do, I’ll hang up.”

“Don’t you dare! If you do, I won’t be able to forgive myself.”

“We couldn’t have that now, could we?” he said with a tinge of humor.

Oh, his voice was like satin, sinuous and luxurious. I sighed. My emotions were on a roller coaster; I felt exhilarated and worried and antsy, all at the same time. Yet how could this be? How could I be drawn so completely to a man I’d only spoken to for a few moments on the phone? Nothing was making any sense.

“Hello? Are you there?”

“I’m here. Believe me, I’m not going anywhere,” I said in all honesty. “Now, tell me what happened today.” Even after this brief conversation I could tell that his voice sounded calmer. Feeling encouraged, I prodded, “Please?”

“I just dropped my daughter off for her first day of kindergarten.”

“Why would that upset you?” I struggled to understand. I’d heard that most people celebrated their child’s first day of school.

“Because she’s all I have left.”

Of course I should have forwarded the call right then to the pastor, but I decided to admit something as well—something dark about myself that I preferred to keep hidden away.

“I know how you’re feeling. Well, at least I think I do. I’m alone in the world, too.” I took another deep breath. “It’s hard, isn’t it?”

“What happened to you?”

Well, that was the kicker, wasn’t it? Was I willing to share secrets about myself in the way I was asking him to share with me? Instantly I knew the answer—a resounding yes! After all, I had nothing to lose.

“My dad left before I was born. My mother just died about a year ago,” I explained. “I don’t have any brothers or sisters; not even a lot of friends, I guess. I’m pretty shy . . . and on the chubby side.”

There. I’d said it. My weight was always on my mind. Though I wasn’t anywhere near obese, I was certainly aware of my thirty extra pounds, enough to admit it to a stranger.

A stranger who, for all I knew, might never see me in his lifetime.

“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.

His sweet acceptance of my problems made me want to melt in my chair! Feeling daring, I even managed to admit a little more. “A counselor told me I’m afraid to create bonds with other people.”

“Are you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember ever having the chance.” I chuckled softly. Gosh, I sounded so pitiful! “I’m okay, though.”

“No boyfriend?”

“No. I have, uh . . . trouble meeting men. As I said before, I’m not the prettiest gal in the world. And I’m pretty introverted.”

“Looks aren’t everything. As for being introverted, you haven’t sounded shy at all to me.”

To my surprise, I realized he was right. We’d been having a real conversation for several minutes.

“I don’t even know your name,” I said.

“Emmitt.”

“I’m Julie.”

“Nice to meet you, Julie. You sound like a very nice person on the phone.”

“You, as well.” I rolled my eyes. Honestly, what was I doing? This Emmitt needed to speak with the pastor and forget all about me.

Still, there was something about his voice—his wonderful, oh-so-soothing voice—that encouraged me to keep talking. I wasn’t ready to let him go.

“I know all about counselors and labeling,” he said.

“You’ve been to see them, too?”

“Oh, yeah. Too many to count. You know how it goes, what they say. ‘You need to give people a chance.’ ”

“ ‘If you do, they just might surprise you,’ ” I finished with a small laugh. “I guess these counselors use a lot of the same lines.”

“So, were they right? Have people been nice to you when you’ve given them a chance?”

I tried to think of my latest experiences. “Yes. I gave the librarian a chance, and she’s been very nice.”

He laughed. “Good for you.”

“No, seriously, sometimes I think that advice is terrific. On good days I feel like everyone deserves a chance. On bad days, when I’m up in the middle of the night, I feel like I’m never going to be happy again.”

“I felt that way today when I dropped off Brittany,” Emmitt said. “I felt like I was losing my little girl. And I wasn’t quite ready to let her go.”

“I bet she’ll be so excited to see you when you pick her up from school. She’s going to give you a big hug and tell you all about her day.”

“I bet you’re right.”

To my surprise, I noticed that the pastor’s door was open. “Emmitt, I’m going to transfer you now. Take care, okay?”

“I will. You too, Julie. For what it’s worth, I’m really glad we spoke today.”

His words were a soothing balm to my heart. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad, too.”

I put him on hold, then peeked into Pastor Jonathan’s office. After telling him about Emmitt, I transferred the call and then sat back in my chair, reflecting on what had just happened between the two of us.

Emmitt was the first person I’d ever told about my parents. He was the first person besides a counselor to whom I’d admitted how much my shyness bothered me. I wondered what in the world I had heard in his voice to spur such an outpouring of information.

I wondered what he was like, what he did for a living, where he lived. Maybe he lived close by, since he knew our pastor. I thought about his husky voice and the intimate way he’d spoken to me—like we were sharing secrets and I was his special friend.

But most of all, I felt thankful for our brief conversation. Even though he had called the church for help, his lovely voice had healed me in numerous ways.

I tried to put both Emmitt and the phone call out of my mind during the next week. Thinking about him and things that could never be would do me no good. Of that, I was sure.

Still, his phone call affected me in ways I could never have imagined. While smiling over his quips at the market, a cashier initiated a conversation with me. Before I knew it, I was laughing with her about the latest tabloid headlines.

I forgot to feel sad when I went to work at the phone company. The ladies I worked with chatted with me more than ever. One even complimented me on a new outfit. Emmitt’s soothing voice kept me company when I drifted off to sleep every night.

The following Friday I went back to volunteer at church. I was in the midst of collating papers when Pastor Jonathan approached me. “Julie, may I speak with you, please?”

“Of course, sir.” I hurried over to the small reception area in his office. “Is anything wrong?”

He looked puzzled for a moment, then shook his head. “No. You know, I was actually going to ask you that question.”

“Why?”

“Well, I know you’ve had a lot going on.”

“That’s true, but suddenly I feel better.”

He tilted his head. “Has anything happened recently to change things?”

How could I tell my pastor that a phone call from a stranger had changed my life? I couldn’t!

“Nothing really, Pastor.”

He looked disappointed. “Oh. I thought a certain person who called last week might have meant something special to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Emmitt. He’s a friend of mine. A very lonely, very great friend of mine. He’s called three times this week. Each time I talk to him, all he does is complain about the receptionist. I finally dragged it out of him that he was looking for a certain one.”

Really?”

He smiled broadly. “Really. I guess the two of you had a lot to say to each other.”

“I don’t know about that. All I know is that I felt comfortable with him. And that felt really good.”

“I’d go with that feeling then. Those comfortable, good feelings are worth savoring.”

I left his private office feeling curiously lightheaded. I wasn’t quite sure what Pastor Jonathan had wanted to get across to me while we were sitting there. Had he wanted to encourage me? Push me toward his friend?

All I knew was that there was a very good chance I might be able to speak with Emmitt again that day. That thought made me tingle with anticipation. Every time the phone rang I jumped an inch. But for over two hours, I handled mundane calls from parishioners.

And then he finally did call, and I practically melted onto the floor from his velvety greeting.

“Hey, Julie. I thought you’d never come back.”

“I can’t believe you remember me!”

“I’ve thought about no one else since we’ve last spoken.”

“I heard you called earlier this week.”

“Who told you that?”

“Pastor Jonathan.”

“Well, I can’t very well get mad at him, can I? Yes, I have called there—to speak to you, but also to speak with the pastor.”

“How’s Brittany enjoying kindergarten?”

“Would you believe she loves it?”

I chuckled. “Yes.”

“Her teacher likes her, too. Says she’s as bright as a polished button. I’m trying really hard to get used to the idea that Brittany is doing so well without me.”

“You two sound so close.”

“We are. I’m a landscaper, so we spend a lot of time together, especially in the winter. I’m going to really miss her when the weather gets cold.”

I was so happy to speak with him and so happy for him, I felt at a complete loss for words. Feeling flustered, I said, “Well, it’s good to talk to you. I’m glad you’re doing so much better. Shall I transfer you to the pastor now?”

“Actually, no. I called to talk to you . . . and to ask you a question.”

“Which is?”

“Would you go out with me?”

“We don’t even know each other.”

“I think I know you better than most people.”

He had a point. “You’ve never even seen me.”

“Does that make a difference?”

“It might,” I hedged.

“Hey, have you thought about what I might look like?”

“Only about a thousand times.”

“I’ve thought about you, too, though I must admit my daydreams were nothing like the reality.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I tried to hide my insecure feelings with humor. “Ha, ha. Has Pastor Jonathan been talking about me to you?”

“He has, but he didn’t mention your looks when we talked. It turns out he thinks very highly of you.”

“I’ll have to remember to thank him.”

“You do that. So where would you like to go eat?”

“I never said I’d join you.” I was getting nervous now.

“Please? There’s a great coffee shop nearby.”

That did sound good. “I don’t know.”

“You’re smiling. I think that means you want to.”

“I am not. I’m not smiling at all!” I retorted, then practically fell off my chair when I saw a darkly handsome man approaching with a cell phone next to his ear.

“You are smiling!” he said. “And you look amazed. What do you think of my surprise?”

I stared at him in astonishment. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“Did what?”

“You sneaked up on me like that!” I took in his appearance. His eyes were dark and his hair was jet black. He had a strong jaw and well-defined shoulders. The way he looked at me made my mouth go dry. His gaze was heated and, surprisingly enough, appreciative.

Had anyone ever made me feel so special? It had been a long time if they had. Too long for me to even remember.

“So, can we have lunch together?” he asked.

Yes! my heart screamed, but my brain was far more suspicious. Suddenly I was very aware that I wasn’t a size six . . . or an eight. Heck, I wasn’t even a size twelve on a good day! And this Emmitt, he was so handsome he could probably have had any girl he wanted.

Had he been imagining that I was far prettier? Was he disappointed? Was he just making an offer now because he didn‘t want to hurt my feelings and take it back?

“Come on, Julie. You can say yes,” he coaxed, still in that wonderful, velvety voice. His perfect features frowned for a second. “Don’t make me beg, Julie. Remember our counselor phone calls? If you say no, you’ll put me in therapy for a year.”

I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing. Even though our appearances may have been deceiving, we still had our same conversations, our same ironic humor.

Even though Emmitt was breathtakingly handsome, I looked in his gorgeous, dark eyes and saw a hint of sadness there. To him, our outer shells meant little. He was still the same man who cried at his daughter’s first day of kindergarten and who’d called his pastor for moral support.

The man who’d spoken with the woman answering the phone like we’d been friends forever.

“Just let me get my purse,” I said softly.

We ate at the coffee shop, and after a few awkward moments we started talking once again just like we did on the phone. I told him about growing up with just my mother for company; he told me about his wife and how devastated he’d been when she’d left him.

It was a nice lunch, and though I had a hard time ignoring his looks, I did my best. Obviously Emmitt just wanted to be friends. We dined several more times together. Each time he looked genuinely happy to see me.

Then, one day out of the blue, he called me at home.

“I have another offer for you, Julie,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“Brittany and I would like you to join us for lunch at our house.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. I knew how hard that offer had been for Emmitt to make. He was so protective of his daughter. Obviously, he truly trusted me. There was no way I would refuse that invitation.

“I’d love to come, but only if I can bring dessert.”

“You’ve got a deal.”

Frantically, I made a large batch of brownies, then did my best to get ready. For some reason, my appearance mattered even more to me than ever. I didn’t want Brittany to tell her father that he had an overweight, ugly friend.

I brushed my hair until it was glossy, then slipped on a casual pair of boot-cut jeans and a pretty lavender blouse. Silver jewelry complemented the rest of my outfit.

Following the directions that Emmitt had given me, I drove to his house. I was greeted with a surprise: He didn’t live in a small townhouse, like mine. Instead, his house was a rustic log cabin surrounded by the most beautiful gardens I’d ever seen. Just being around all that beauty made my throat catch. And my body shivered when I saw him, clad in snug-fitting jeans.

“You made it,” he said, smiling brightly.

“I did. Your place is amazing.”

“I told you I was a landscaper.”

“All of this puts that job in a whole other category!”

He laughed at my enthusiasm. “Well, I like to putter around the yard—and hang out with my number one gal. Brittany, come out and meet Julie, honey.”

Slowly, a lovely little girl sporting the same jet-black hair as her father appeared. She walked slowly toward me, using a cane only slightly for guidance. A cane?

I gazed at Emmitt in confusion. “She’s blind,” he said, matter-of-factly, loud enough for Brittany to hear.

“I can’t see,” she echoed.

Tears pricked my eyes again, and this time one lone tear made its way down my cheek. “How nice to meet you, Brittany. I’m Julie.”

She reached out a slim hand to mine, and I took it without hesitation. “I’m glad you came to have lunch with us. Are you my daddy’s friend?”

I caught Emmitt’s eye. He nodded then.

“Yes, I am. I’m your daddy’s friend,” I said, kneeling down to her level. “Maybe one day soon we’ll be friends, too?”

“I’d like that,” Brittany answered. Then her sweet little button nose turned toward the basket I still held in my other hand. “Are those fudge brownies?”

“Yes. Do you like them?”

“Yep. Come with me, Julie. I’ll show you our house.”

As she guided me forward, her little voice chirping away, so many things about Emmitt now made sense. Now I knew why he had been so worried about his daughter. Now I knew why he didn’t trust everyone instantly.

Now I knew why he didn’t care so much about a having a beautiful girlfriend. Maybe he’d learned that it was what was inside a person that mattered the most.

We ate hot dogs and potato salad and chatted with Brittany. Both she and Emmitt had two of my brownies each. Then, an hour later, when she went to her bedroom for her nap, I held out my hand to Emmitt.

“Thank you for a wonderful lunch. It means so much that you trusted me enough to meet Brittany.”

“I’m glad you met my daughter, but I’m also very glad you wanted to spend time with me.”

The tension between us was intense and electrifying. “I like you very much, Julie,” he whispered.

“I like you, too,” I admitted.

“I want you to know . . . I find you very attractive.”

“What?” His words absolutely stunned me. I couldn’t imagine he meant what he said.

Emmitt slipped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. “I don’t want to hold a bone-thin woman in my arms,” he said in a husky voice. “I want a woman with attractive curves and a deep, meaningful personality. I want a woman with pretty lavender eyes and who has the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard on the phone. I want you.”

I blushed at his wonderful, delicious words. “I think you’re very handsome.”

He laughed. “Good. Does that mean you’ll let me kiss you?”

“Right now?”

“I can’t wait a minute longer, Julie,” he whispered.

And then he did kiss me, right there on the couch. It was no tender, tentative kiss, either, but one full of passion and arousal. I felt his body harden and my insides ignited as well. As far as I was concerned, the two of us were meant to be together. Right this minute—and forever. After several long minutes we were out of breath and intoxicated.

“I’d better go home before we forget to take things slowly,” I said.

He brushed a hand through his hair. “You’d better. All I want to do right this minute is take you to bed.”

His honesty and his obvious yearning for me made my heart beat wildly. “I’ll call you tomorrow?”

He shook his head. “Nope. Call me tonight. I can’t wait that long to hear your voice.”

Oh, his words were spellbinding. “I will call you,” I replied. “Just as soon as I get home.”

He kissed me deeply again. “You’d better.”

“Tell Brittany goodbye?”

“I will,” he whispered, as his lips found mine once again. Before I knew it I was locked in his embrace again, unable to do anything but open my mouth for his kiss.

Emmitt made me feel whole and beautiful. I never wanted to leave his arms, but I knew I had to.

I did call him that night—and the day after. Soon we were a couple, or rather a trio, because Brittany loved me, too.

I felt whole and happy, and told Pastor Jonathan that I felt like a new person, both inside and out. I had pride in myself and a new confidence that everyone around me seemed to notice, and all because of the love of Emmitt and Brittany.

One night Emmitt and Brittany asked me to marry them. I cried when I said yes. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life.

So that’s how Emmitt and I found each other. We found each other during a very tough week in a very tough year. We found each other in a place where we least expected to find love.

And we found love in the most wonderful, incredible way possible, first as friends and then as lovers.

We weren’t unlovable people. We were just two people in need of love with the right people. I’m so glad he called the church that one day and that I fell in love with my perfect stranger.

Time Again to Celebrate ‘Bad Sex in Fiction’

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The year is ending on a grim note for many, whether it’s the tragedy in Aleppo, the Trump transition or the polar vortex. That’s why we need the Bad Sex in Fiction Award right now!

Every year since 1993, the London-based Literary Review has honored an author who has produced an outstandingly bad sex scene description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written sexual description in modern fiction–with the hope that writers will learn to do better.

This year, respected writer Erri De Luca, who has won the 2013 European Prize for Literature, was awarded the booby prize for The Day Before Happiness, in which the Neapolitan orphan protagonist has a penchant for describing erotic moments with wooden (literally) prose such as “My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach” or the rev-me-up “My body was her gearstick.”

woman in bedOf course, De Luca faced tough competition from Leave Me by Gayle Forman, a New York Times best-selling author, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin, teacher of creative writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Canin earned his nomination with this sporty passage: “The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced.”

Meanwhile, nominee Tom Connolly seems confused about what makes a sex scene hot in Men Like Air: “Often she cooked exotic meals and put chillies or spices in her mouth while preparing the food and sucked him while the food cooked and then told him to f—- her while his manhood was burning rock-hard with fire.”

While The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis earned the judges’ attention with the limp “I am pinned like wet washing with his peg,” The Tobacconist, by Robert Seethaler, waxed philosophical during a BJ: “…for one blessed moment he felt as if he could understand the things of this world in all their immeasurable beauty. How strange they are, he thought, life and all of these things.” Yeah. For more excerpts from this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award nominees, see https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/17/bad-sex-award-2016-the-contenders-in-quotes

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 Husband’s Deathbed Wish Came True On Christmas

Torso of waitress

My legs seemed to melt beneath me as I neared the booth to serve the friendly young couple. Sudden dizziness spun through my head but faded. I’d be okay once I got even busier. The rushing would stimulate me, as it usually did. That’s what another waitress, Patti, always said, too.

I set down the warm plates heaped with the sizzling fish, salad, and a roll, then felt another surge of dizziness.

“Oh, no!” A woman screamed as I fell into a fog of blackness.

I opened my eyes and saw a crowd of onlookers with worried faces. Someone was calling 911 on a cell phone. Again, I blacked out.

I came to in a wailing ambulance as a kind, young paramedic told me not to worry. “We’re taking care of you,” he promised.

The ambulance halted. Bright lights streamed over me as I was carried on a stretcher into the emergency room. Suddenly I longed to see Ben Samson, the handsome widower who was unusually kind and obviously cared for me. Sometimes I felt he cared for me more than my family, who were so busy and involved with their own lives.

Ben had often asked me to go out for dinner and dancing. We’d danced at our mutual friends’ wedding reception a few months earlier. Maybe someday we would go out together, but now I had to work hard, earn money, and glory in my holiday shopping plans. I had ideas for each grandchild on my list. Dating would have to take a backseat for a while.

My husband, Jeff, had insisted I start dating as soon as I could to go on with my life. “You’re too young to be alone now, honey. Just know I want you to find another man.” I felt a bit guilty despite Jeff’s request. I wanted to honor the good husband he had been and not pair up with someone else too soon.

My thoughts flew back to earlier that evening, when I’d gone to work. I needed to earn as much as possible. I missed the steady paycheck Jeff used to bring home from the Iron Works, but I missed my wonderful Jeff even more. But reality said I needed to pay my bills, so I didn’t give in to my tiredness as the night wore on.

The manager, Trish, stared at me when my hands shook as I picked up two plates. “Amy, let me call Patti to come in and replace you, okay? You look worn to a frazzle!”

“I’m fine!” I fibbed, feeling more worn out than in years.

But I had bills to pay and Christmas gifts to buy. As a fifty-four-year-old mother and grandmother, I had loved ones on my list that I wanted to see smile when they opened my presents. Giving gifts was important to me, a high point in my life, something I liked doing better than making new life plans for myself. I had enjoyed life with Jeff. Now it was time to give happiness to my children and grandchildren.

As I rushed around, I thought about my son Mike and his wife, Lorna. They had two active kids—Lisa, who was five, and Joseph, six. I loved driving the ten miles to their home in Crystal City. Their happiness with what I could give them was my life goal now. Everytime I earned extra tips and had my bills paid, I bought small presents for my family to give when I visited them. Giving was such a happy feeling.

Sure, I heard from some of the women I talked with at work or at coffee gatherings that giving gifts was not always a guarantee for family happiness. “I gave my son and his wife a new coffeemaker and she got upset. It wasn’t the brand she liked and she let me know about it every time I visited,” said Elaine.

Lois, Marla, Diana, and Tina mentioned that the children in their lives were often too fussy. So they gave money in a card instead of buying gifts that would be shunned.

I didn’t let what anyone said discourage me. I felt good giving gifts and nothing would make me stop shopping for them.

The only thing that was getting me down now was that this job was my extra one. My main waitress work was at the Lakeside Resort. My boss, Mr. Lewis, would frown on my overextending myself with this evening job on my day off from the resort. He wanted his workers to be rested and fresh. But Mr. Lewis wasn’t responsible for paying my bills or buying my loved ones gifts on birthdays or for Christmas!

My thoughts scattered as another wave of dizziness spun through me and I fell asleep or passed out from exhaustion on that high hospital bed.

When I came to, I was looking at Dr. Morgan’s craggy, sixty-plus-year-old face. He had been our family physician and was on-call that evening.

“Amy, I told you at your last checkup that you were overdoing it. You need more sleep and more time for fun—not just work. Remember the old saying that ‘all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl?’ Well, Jill is you, Amy. I want to know why you can’t make ends meet with one job. You no longer have Mike at home to support. Why do you need a second job when you’re at a stage in life when you need to relax and have some leisure time?”

His sincerity made me tell him something I didn’t tell many people; I admitted that I wanted to give my grandchildren special Christmas gifts. I told him about the electronic gifts, a porcelain collector doll, and a baby doll I was buying for my grandchildren. “I have a list of books and video films to buy for them, too, Dr. Morgan.”

“There’s no need for a grandmother to give up her personal life, to work herself to the bone so she can dote on grandchildren to the point where she ends up in the ER!” Dr. Morgan said emphatically. “You’re still young and attractive. Start dating again, and maybe even remarry!”

“But my life is Mike and his family. I’m that kind of woman and I can’t help it. I am the kind of woman who needs to create a homey atmosphere for those I love. I’m like that and I can’t change.”

“You need to take care of yourself, Amy. This December, you need to forget about Christmas.”

I gazed at the doctor’s stern but concerned expression and shrugged. I made no promises to give up on Christmas, so I stayed silent. He ordered me to rest awhile. He brought me a phone and ordered me to call Mike to come and take me to my home.

I obeyed that part of his order and phoned Mike, who sounded frantic with worry. “What’s wrong, Mom? You’re always so healthy and peppy. What happened?”

“Just exhausted. I haven’t been sleeping well.”

I didn’t admit my sleep had been interrupted by my long work hours. I was so physically uptight when I got home that sleep often eluded me. It was a secret I kept from my family. I needed to keep working to earn money and I knew I’d stop before I got sick.

Already, I knew I’d rest more. I’d learned from my trip to the ER. I wasn’t stupid. I planned to rest more—and that meant no dancing with Ben Samson until maybe next summer when I’d be caught up on rest.

Mike said he’d come and get me right away. “I want you to come home with us tonight, Mom.”

“No, I’ll rest better in my own bed, honey. Thanks for the offer, but I do like my own bed.”

He sighed. “Then I’ll sleep on your sofa tonight so I can be there for you. Lorna will understand and agree with my idea, too. I know it.”

I said okay, but I knew deep down that Lorna would not like it. She’d let me know early on that she now belonged to Mike and he belonged to her. “Our lives are our own, said Amy. My parents taught me to be up front with my beliefs. So I want you to know that we love you, but we have our own little family now. Please don’t tell Mike that we had this little talk.”

I agreed just to keep the peace between Mike and his wife. I thought of my neighbor Susan’s words: “A mother-in-law shouldn’t lead her life to please her married children or their spouses. I don’t. And I’ve been given some unwanted advice a few times, too.”

Susan had often frowned on the way her son and his wife spent too much money on every fad advertised on television. “The kids don’t need every gimmick on the market,” she’d said.

“That might have some truth to it,” I agreed, “but to see my grandchildren smile makes me feel such inner peace. It makes me happy and that’s my goal in life now that Jeff’s gone.”

“Suit yourself, Amy.” Susan shrugged, then offered me another piece of her tasty homemade cake.

Later, her words echoed in my mind as I pondered how Lorna indulged my grandchildren in whatever they begged for. Then guilt overwhelmed me. Was I doing the same? Still, I was giving Christmas gifts to create happy Christmas memories to show my love for them. My own past memories were not delightful. I’d longed for a certain doll for two years in a row and never got the beautiful blonde doll in the pink satin dress.

I felt torn inside but kept it a secret from my friends. I always smiled and said my Christmas had been great—like theirs had been.

As I lay on the bed waiting for Mike, I thought about how my son and his family took long weekends at resorts to get away from it all. Jeff and I hadn’t done that. We’d waited for someday, and that day had never arrived. So I was feeling fresh gladness giving loving gifts to my family. Somehow, it eased my grief and fulfilled me. It helped me more than finding romance with a new man would, I was sure.

And now I lay in the ER with Dr. Morgan’s words echoing in my brain: Forget about working so hard to shop for Christmas.

Then the curtain by my bed was pulled aside and I gazed at my tall blonde son whose blue eyes were shiny with tears. “Mom, what happened to you?”

“I got too tired. And my insurance will pay for this.”

“Mom, you’ve got to stop working at two jobs. I’ll do my best to help you if you need money.” He started to say more but he stopped. I knew he had no extra funds to help me. I had to work and lead my own life to fulfill my new goals for contentment.

A friendly nurse wheeled me to Mike’s van in the lighted hospital parking lot as the December wind blew. I decided to rest so I could enjoy the holidays. I’d find out about buying gifts on credit. My credit card was limited. I didn’t want to go over the maximum.

Mike settled in on my sofa bed overnight. It felt good to have him in the house again. I slept well and woke up feeling more rested. What a relief! I’d go to bed as soon as I got home from work each evening and catch up on my sleep.

Ben kept asking me to go dancing but there was no time—and I secretly knew I had no energy left for a new man, anyway.

I felt better each day and wrapped presents in my spare time. I wouldn’t be with Mike’s family when they opened their gifts. When Mike and Lorna had their first baby, she had told me birthdays and holidays would be their ‘family’ time. “I can’t help it if I seem selfish. I didn’t have family time when growing up, Amy. There was always something else going on.”

I would be invited to birthday and Christmas dinners at a separate time, though. I’d have loved to have seen their faces when they opened my gifts, but I’d heed Lorna’s wishes and do as she asked. It was their marriage and different from our family tradition. But that was what would be for now. Someday I would ask to be there on a holiday to see the grandchildren’s faces when they opened my gifts.

It was easier to work at my two jobs with ease after my rest. Ben Samson kept coming in to pay attention to me with his caring comments. “I want to take you dancing, Amy. You need to have some fun!”

“Someday, Ben, maybe,” I said. “For now, I’ve got bills to pay.”

“I understand about bills, but we all need a break for fun. You raised your son. Now it’s time for you to relax and enjoy some free time.” His dark eyes looked serious. “I worry about you wearing yourself out when you already did your child raising thing.”

Sometimes after he flirted and asked me to go dancing with him, I dreamed about him holding me close. And I’d wake up wishing it hadn’t been a dream.

Soon after that, he asked me to go to the Landing, a restaurant where there was a good dance band. “I know you were a terrific dancer in high school. No one forgets how to dance, right? So let’s go to the Landing and dance, Amy.”

I felt a twinge when he said the day he wanted me to go. I couldn’t say yes. It was the Sunday afternoon I had off from work and was invited to a pre-Christmas dinner at Mike and Lorna’s home. I couldn’t say no to my family. I’d been a mother too long for anything to interfere. Ben’s attentiveness would wait for another time, I told myself. He was a patient man.

Then I saw a new widow, Pam Taylor, flirting with Ben as he was leaving the restaurant to go dancing. What if he asks her? A jealous pang hit but melted when I knew I couldn’t give up being with my family for a Christmas gathering. Yet worry knotted in me. Pam was pretty and Ben smiled when she flirted with him.

Then Ben stopped showing up at the restaurant. I felt puzzled and worried that he was seeing Pam.

One late night after work I cried during a tearjerker romance movie on television. I longed to be held close and loved by another caring man. I even went so far as to look for Ben’s usual booth every time I was working, but he had vanished from my life. Why hadn’t I been more flirtatious in return?

I knew the answer: If I had to choose between Ben and Mike and his family, my maternal loyalty would have drawn me to my family. Was I being fair to them? Was I leaning on them too much?

Grandma had told me as a child that family closeness is a gift to be cherished.

As Christmas neared I kept busy, despite Ben’s absence. I trimmed the tree and baked Mike’s favorite fancy cut-out cookies for him and his family. I felt my pep lagging and ran out of wrapping paper while I still had gifts to wrap. So I found some leftover wall paper rolls to use for the rest of the gifts. It matched my kitchen walls, but the kids would get a smile out of it. I smiled, thinking of them clapping their hands in delight and saying, “Nana, you used wallpaper! Now our presents are like your walls!”

Christmas gift with tag

I ran out of ribbon, too, so just added a nametag on each. I sighed with relief when I finished the last gift. My grandchildren would have a pile of pretty packages with big ribbons to put under their big tree. They would never know how it felt to wake up on Christmas to find nothing under the tree. Buying for them was a way to fill the hole inside me from my bleak Christmases as a child and teen. And the wallpaper would be fun for them!

Three days before Christmas I wrote the last of my cards, delivered cookies to Susan and Ted next door, listened to taped carols, went to church, phoned my parents and promised to visit them in Nevada come summer. I must have sounded tired because Mom asked if I felt okay. I hadn’t told her about my ER trip and the doctor’s warning.

Mom sounded worried. “I know we didn’t have much money when you were growing up. But don’t work too hard, honey. Take a vacation and visit us before summer. I’d like to make hot soup for you and bake your favorite cinnamon rolls to go with morning coffee—the way you like breakfast.”

I thanked Mom. I missed her and Dad with a sudden fierceness and longed to visit them sooner. But I’d charged most of the gifts and needed to pay off my credit card bill before too much interest added on. I didn’t tell Mom. Why should I worry my parents?

“I’ll try to visit soon if I can swing the expense, Mom.”

“I hope so, Amy. I’d like to somehow make up for the hard times when you were a girl at home.”

I kept busy at the restaurants and delivering the cookies to Mike and Lorna’s home. Their trimmed tree was a glorious sight, with all the new trimmings in shimmering silver.

“Mike got a raise at the accounting office, so the new decorations were one way to celebrate,” Lorna said, beaming.

She offered me coffee with cookies. “They’re not homemade, but easier!” Lorna smiled.

“I brought you homemade cookies, Lorna,” I said.

Instead of the smile I expected, her expression told me she guessed I’d made the usual cut-out cookies she’d once said she disliked. Mike and the children liked them. I hugged her and asked her to greet Mike and the children for me when they got home.

As I drove home, I felt like attending the church concert. On an impulse, I decided to call Ben to see if he wanted to join me. It would be short notice, but I hadn’t seen him lately. I wouldn’t know if he’d like to go unless I asked.

I waved to Susan when I got out of my car in the driveway. She called to ask if I would be going to Mike’s for the gift opening on Christmas morning. I told her I’d go there later for dinner in the afternoon.

“You should be there for the gift opening, Amy. You’re the mother and grandmother, so why not?”

“I’m not pushy and it’s private family time. That’s how Lorna grew up, with only their immediate family there for the gift opening time. I understand—or intend to try!” I smiled to soften the tension growing inside me.

“Why don’t you go dancing with Ben sometime? I know he’s asked you to go.”

“Maybe I will,” I said, adding cheer to my tone.

However, worry gnawed at me. What if Ben had given up on me and found Pam to be good company?

Once inside, I decided not only to date Ben when he asked, but to be bold and call! Why not? I tried several times, but got no answer or machine to leave a message.

The trimmed tree at the church, the carols, and the nativity crèche gave me a family feeling. At home later, I quickly tuned on some Christmas television programs and vicariously enjoyed others’ lives on It’s A Wonderful Life. Then I went to bed, glad I hadn’t worked that night. I’d enjoyed a family feeling, even though I was alone.

But I wondered, Where’s Ben?

On Christmas morning, I made coffee, scrambled an egg, warmed a cinnamon roll in the microwave, and poured myself orange juice. I ate while “Joy To The World” wafted from the tape player. I basked in the memory of my first married Christmas, when Jeff and I had breakfast together in the tiny kitchen of our first apartment. Then we went back to bed for a while to make passionate love.

But that was another lifetime ago, I realized. I shook away the memories and anticipated seeing Mike, Lorna, and the children that afternoon. Then a sad streak hit me. Would I ever see Ben again? Well, I’d pushed him away, and it might have been best that way.

I glanced at the clock. It was time to go to Mike and Lorna’s home. I could hardly wait to see my grandchildren’s shining faces when they would rush to greet me and tell me how much they loved the gifts I’d given them!

I rang the doorbell an hour sooner than expected, but that wouldn’t bug them, I was sure. After all, it was Christmas. Everyone would be in a carefree, holiday spirit. I know I was! My drive over had been like riding on air.

When Lorna saw me at the door her mouth opened wide. “Oh, you’re early! We’re—we’re not ready yet, Amy.”

“That’s okay, Lorna. I can . . . well, blend in. Merry Christmas! And thanks for the wonderful sausage and cheese gift. My favorite kind!”

I leaned toward her and gave her a tight hug, although she stiffened. Her tight expression and cool attitude hurt me. Suddenly, my being pushed away from my family was too much. I was a person and I deserved a happy life. Jeff had told me that on his deathbed. And I would call Ben and tell him so—if I could still have Ben in my life.

Lorna must have seen my expression as I said, “I’ll leave now. Merry Christmas!”

I turned to go, but she stopped me by saying, “Listen, you’ve driven ten miles to get here, so you might as well come in.”

She pointed me to the family room, where the buzzing voices sounded. I stood in the doorway, gazed at the shimmering tree, and admired it aloud. Mike hurried over to hug me, as did my grandchildren, who then rushed right back to their new toys. I stood there, observing them as though they were on stage and I was in the audience.

“Sit down, sit down, Mom!” Mike said, pointing out a spot on the sofa he had cleared for me.

Happy family at christmas opening gifts together

I sat down and saw the gigantic pile of presents. There were games, toy trucks, doll carriages, a miniature keyboard, a little dinette set, a small beauty shop—to name some. The room was congested with crumpled paper and gifts. The gifts I had given must have been buried in the heap, so I wouldn’t ask if they’d liked them.

Everyone was chattering and keeping busy with different toys. I thanked Mike for the cheese assortment and he got me a cup of hot coffee to sip while we visited.

Then I saw it, peeking out from behind a pile of presents: the wallpaper-wrapped presents among the others I’d delivered to them earlier. Thinking they’d overlooked them, I walked over and pointed out what I had given them.

“You still have mine to open, Joseph,” I told my grandson.

He screwed up his little face. “You wrapped them in paper like your kitchen!”

“Joseph!” Mike scolded as Lorna walked into the room.

“Well, it’s not Christmas wrap, honey,” she said. “Can you blame a child if he’s got his own opinion?”

Stunned, I knew this was the end of my longing for family closeness on holidays. My family unity hope had been suddenly, most cruelly shattered. Now I could go on in life—a life of my own, with a new romance with Ben—if he still wanted me. My heart ached with worry that Pam had him now.

I would drive home to my peace and quiet. I would go out with Ben, if he was still available. I would take Susan’s suggestion to become bolder. I would wait to tell Mike and Lorna how I felt. It was Christmas, so I would just honor the day with patience . . . until I could change my life pattern of overindulging my son and his family. It was time to move to a new life—and romance!

I got up and walked to the door. Mike rushed to ask me to stay for dinner, but I’d lost my appetite. I knew I’d finally found my new pathway in life, and it wasn’t there, in that house. I needed time before we could discuss this, and Christmas wasn’t the day to do that.

I forced a smile as reality rushed through me like a river. “Mike, please don’t be concerned. I’ve got plans of my own today. Ben and I will spend time together.”

“Well, at least stay for when the children open your gifts, Mom.”

“No, it’s okay with me if they open them today or another time. I’ve got to leave now, Mike.” I took his right hand and squeezed it. “Merry Christmas to each of you! I’ll be happy, too, with my plans today.”

As I drove I hoped that Ben would listen to me and forgive me for putting him off so often after I’d told him I’d learned to pursue my own life.

Even if he was out of my life, I planned for the following Christmas. I would be willing to date and heed Jeff’s deathbed wish for me. I would socialize at a singles’ group, where everyone went to the movies, concerts, or dances together and didn’t necessarily pair off. I was weaning myself from being obsessed with making up for my poverty-stricken childhood by giving up happiness now.

As I entered my home again, with its cozy splendor and my renewed inner peace, I became even bolder. I phoned Ben. This time his wonderful, deep voice answered.

“Hi!” I said. “This is Amy Lukas. Merry Christmas, Ben.”

“Merry Christmas to you, Amy,” he said, gladness tingling in his tone. “I’ve been busy checking out a new job lately, so I haven’t been at the restaurant. I was sitting here having a frozen dinner for my Christmas meal. Not too bad, but not great, either. The restaurants in town are closed, so I can’t be choosy.”

“If you want to come over, I’ll scramble some eggs for you, make toast, and serve you some of the pumpkin pie I made. I’ve also got salad fixings, if you like, to go with two kinds of cheese with crackers as an alternative, Ben.”

“I don’t care what you serve, Amy. I’m so glad you’re including me in your Christmas.”

Romantic Senior Couple In Bathroom

We had a cozy time eating the holiday breakfast in the evening. Then we put on some tapes of romantic love songs, and Ben and I danced. We swayed to the soft melodies and I felt as though I was meant for his arms. He whispered, “I’ve never been happier, Amy. Merry Christmas, honey.”

That was last Christmas. This Christmas will be our wedding day—and I had to share the good news. I feel that Jeff will smile from heaven, knowing that I will no longer be widowed and I’ll be cherished and loved by another man.

Mike, Lorna, Lisa, and Joseph are happy that I no longer will be alone. The children made me a poster: happy marriage to nana.

Now I’ll have family love and my new romance to cherish!

You Can Bite My Neck Anytime

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I never believed in psychics or their predictions until that crisp October night. After what fate delivered into my hands, I realized that some things just have their own way of working out for the best. Destiny really can surprise you when you least expect it!

“Don’t worry! You’re going to have fun tonight. You need to meet some new people, and have a sense of adventure. You’re too boring, Winnie,” Mallory snapped.

I watched my “friend” strut toward the two-story house, her spiked heels clicking along the stone pathway. I pursed my lips and shook my head. I couldn’t believe I’d just heard that. Some friend Mallory was turning out to be! I’d only met her three weeks ago in a jewelry-making class and didn’t know her that well. In fact, the more I got to know her, the less I liked her. Mallory had seemed friendly enough at first, but now, her snide comments and obnoxious attitude were grating on my nerves.

I followed Mallory onto the wooden porch. Loud music blared from inside the house. I felt my stomach drop. The last thing I wanted to do tonight was go to a party where I didn’t know a soul. But, deep down, I knew I shouldn’t refuse the invitation. I was surprised when Mallory invited me to her friend’s Halloween party. At the time, it sounded like fun. But now that I was here, all I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch with a glass of red wine and a good book.

“I wouldn’t mention what you told me to anyone here. They’ll think you’re a nut. Nobody believes in psychics!” Mallory laughed.

I let out a deep sigh. How had I gotten myself into this? Mallory and I had been talking about horoscopes, and then we’d gotten onto the topic of psychics. I had innocently mentioned my visit to the fortuneteller a few weeks ago, and that had set Mallory off.

“I’m not a nut; I just said it was intriguing, Mallory.”

I didn’t disguise the bitterness in my voice. The trip to the psychic had been interesting. I went in expecting to see an older woman dressed like a gypsy staring into a crystal ball. I’d been skeptical, and I made sure not to give her any hints or clues about my life or my present situation. To my surprise, though, the middle-aged woman who read my tarot cards seemed to know all about me. It was almost spooky. She told me things that nobody else could possibly have known.

Mallory turned, and her red devil costume billowed up around her thighs. “Someone from your past will enter your life? Ha!” She knocked on the door. “You can’t really believe that nonsense, Winnie.”

“Well, that’s what the woman said,” I replied. “She was right about a lot of other things. Analisa even knew that my real . . . oh, never mind,” I muttered. I was sorry I ever told Mallory about the psychic, and I hoped that she’d let the subject drop. I didn’t need to be teased about it all night.

I busied myself by adjusting the top of my harem dancer outfit. The dark, sheer skirt and low-cut sequined top exposed my stomach and left me feeling chilly in the night air. Although the costume fit fine, I thought I looked ridiculous. I’d never worn anything so flashy before, but the get-up was all that was left at the Halloween store. Compared to Mallory’s revealing dress, though, I might as well have been wearing flannel pajamas.

The grim reaper answered the door and beckoned us inside. Mallory paraded me through the crowded living room filled with an assortment of clowns, cowboys, and pirates. The interior of the house was decorated with orange and black streamers and balloons.

I tried to ignore the stares and raised eyebrows I got as I passed by in my seductive costume. Someone let out a whistle, and I cringed. My ensemble made me feel exposed—like I was on the prowl for a one-night stand or something. My skin prickled, and I tried to ignore the obvious leering glances as I followed Mallory through the lower half of the house. She seemed to know all the men there . . . and I wasn’t surprised.

“You mingle around, Winnie. I’m going to find the bar.” Mallory vanished into the sea of costumed people without another word.

I shook my head. This was just great. I should have known better than to get mixed up with Mallory. We were like night and day. Seeing her in jewelry class was one thing, and she was okay to talk to twice a week, but we hadn’t socialized much outside of class before tonight and right now I doubted that I’d even speak to her after the party.

I inwardly cursed myself for letting Mallory drive me. I could be stranded—bored to tears—until she decided that it was time to go home. And who knew when that was going to be?

I looked around the living room, hoping to spot someone who appeared friendly. Everyone seemed to know each other. That only added to my insecurity. I’d never been good at big parties. I liked more quiet, sedate settings, or small, friendly gatherings. It also didn’t help that I felt naked in my skimpy outfit.

I helped myself to a cup of punch from the dining room table and retreated into a dimly lit section of the kitchen hallway. I leaned against the wall and replayed last week’s visit to the psychic. It had only cost fifty dollars, and I hadn’t seen any harm in it. I’d asked Analisa about my job, and of course, my love life, such that it was. Analisa gazed at the tarot cards for a moment, and then said that someone from my past would soon reenter my life.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but Analisa had been right about a lot of things that she couldn’t have possibly known about. She talked about me getting married and moving, and ending up with three children. I was more skeptical about that than anything else.

Before I left, she had advised me not to refuse any invitations for the next two months. That didn’t seem too hard. This was the only party I’d been invited to in ages. But despite Analisa’s advice, I regretted coming, anyway. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to get out and socialize yet.

My psychic reading wasn’t the only reason I went to the party. I felt that I needed to start getting out more. Taking the jewelry class had been my first step toward building a new life for myself. The breakup with John two months ago had been hard to get over, but now I felt like I was ready to start fresh. Unfortunately, I hadn’t come across any good dating prospects at work or anywhere else.

I sipped my drink and stared down at my purple toenails. Maybe I should go back to the living room and socialize a little, I thought. At least it would pass the time.

“Gwyneth?”

The deep voice startled me. I whirled around and sloshed half of my punch onto my chest. Gwyneth? Nobody had called me that in years! Hardly anyone even knew my real name.

I turned and gazed up into the handsome face of Count Dracula.

“I’m so sorry, Winnie; I. . . .” the count mumbled and smiled, displaying his fangs. “Hang on.” He removed the plastic teeth and put them in his pocket. “It’s hard to talk with those in. I didn’t mean to scare you. Well, I mean, I did, but I didn’t want you to spill your drink.” He chuckled.

I stared at him, trying to figure out who he was. He had to be someone I knew pretty well. I never told casual acquaintances my real name. Analisa had known, though. That’s why I’d believed her about the other things.

I studied Dracula for a moment. His white face makeup distorted his features, but the rumbling voice sounded so familiar. Under the makeup and without his black hair slicked back . . . could it be? “Ace? Is that you?” I exclaimed.

He grinned and nodded. “Yes. It’s me. Surprise! Happy Halloween!”

My heart skipped a beat. Ace looked even sexier now than when I’d last seen him three years ago. He still had the same hazel-green eyes, strong jawline, and dark hair I’d dreamt about running my fingers through. But for some reason, he seemed taller than I knew him to be. Something was different about his shoulders, too. He had filled out or bulked up, or something. . . .

Lust-filled memories of the past washed over me, and I tried to keep my composure. “Where did you come from?” I looked into his eyes and caught him staring at my exposed midriff.

Ace glanced up, and a guilty grin spread across his face. “You spilled your drink.”

Ace pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket, dipped it in his club soda, and gently wiped the sticky punch off my collarbone. I gasped as a rivulet of cold liquid trickled down my chest. Ace’s actions sent a familiar ripple of desire coursing through me. Time hadn’t erased my feelings for him. He still had the same effect on my mind and body.

Ace stepped back and shook his head. “I’m sorry. That was so forward of me. I haven’t seen you in three years and I . . . I was watching you from the corner and I couldn’t believe my eyes. What are you doing here? Do you work with Sal?”

“No.” I shook my head, and the bells braided into my long hair jingled. “I’m not sure what I’m doing here.” I shrugged. “A woman I met in a class invited me, then abandoned me the second we got here. This was sort of something to do to get me out of the house. I don’t know anyone here at all.”

Ace and I had been good friends and had shared so much at one point; I knew that he’d understand my dilemma. “You know how I am, Ace. I’m not very good at big parties.” I swirled the ice in my drink and tried to calm my rapidly beating heart.

“Well, you know me—that’s more than enough.” Ace smiled.

Ace draped his black cape around my shoulders. The cool satin caressed my bare skin, and my body tingled with excitement. Never in all the years we’d worked together had he gotten so close—no matter how many times I’d wished for it.

Even though there was an undeniable, mutual attraction between us years ago, neither one of us had ever acted on it, or even acknowledged it. It just seemed better that way. At the time, Ace had a girlfriend, and despite all my longings and hopes, I accepted the fact that we would just remain friends. I relaxed under his touch and tried to act casual. “So, what have you been doing all this time, Ace?”

“Let’s see . . . after I left Karos Printing, I got engaged to Leah.” He arched his left eyebrow. “And then I got dumped two months before the wedding. I was pretty miserable, so I went to Arizona for three years. I just moved back here last month. Now I work with Sal, running phone lines and wiring for his office.”

Engaged? Dumped? My pulse quickened. Did this mean that Ace was single? What had happened between him and Leah? They’d seemed so happy together. Ace always used to talk about her. The one time Ace had introduced me to Leah, she hadn’t looked too happy to meet me. Had she been jealous of our relationship?

Everyone in the office knew that Ace and I were good friends, but that was as far as it went. Although, so much time had passed over the years, it hadn’t lessened my attraction to him.

I was about to suggest that we exchange phone numbers and get caught up sometime, when Ace cleared his throat and leaned close to me. He started playing with the bells in my hair. I caught a whiff of his exotic, spicy-scented cologne. It invited me to get closer.

“What have you been doing? Is there anyone special in your life?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No; not at all.” Ace’s hinting wasn’t lost on me for a second, and I was elated. “I got a new job last year, and I’ve been keeping busy with night classes and traveling.” I sipped my punch and stared into his dazzling eyes.

“You know, instead of moving away, I should’ve called you, Winnie. I always wondered what it would have been like if we went out. We had great times at the office.”

I almost choked on my punch. “What?”

Ace toyed with the nylon veil hanging from my waist. His fingers touched my skin, and an electric tingle raced through me.

“You heard me, Win. We always had lots of fun together. You and I were more compatible than Leah and I ever were.” Ace sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know why I didn’t realize it at the time. I guess it always was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to take the risk. But that was the old me. Now, I’m more adventurous, more bold.”

Ace sipped his club soda and gestured toward my harem girl outfit. “This is an interesting costume,” he said, slipping his arm around my waist.

My heart raced as his warm hand stroked my stomach. Ace had been an unobtainable fantasy that got me through many boring days stuck behind my desk at the office. When we’d worked together, we’d both go out of our way to visit each other’s cubicles several times a day. Had Ace ever sat at his desk and fantasized about me, too?

“I’m glad you like it,” I replied. The costume that had previously left me feeling vulnerable and exposed now allowed me to be playful, and sexy. I trailed my fingers along the back of Ace’s wide hand and batted my lashes at him. “You look very elegant. You’re not a spooky kind of vampire.”

I found his choice of costume rather appropriate, actually. After all, vampires were famous for their ability to mesmerize and seduce helpless women. I felt myself falling under Ace’s spell. I was helpless to fight it—and I didn’t want to.

Ace pulled me up against his chest. “Yes. We vampires all have one thing in common: We always go for the neck.”

I giggled as he draped his cape over us. All of a sudden, Ace’s warm, sexy lips nuzzled my throat. I gasped and wrapped my arms around his broad back. I let out a throaty moan as he trailed tiny kisses down my neck, and ignited a fire deep within me. Talk about tension. . . .

Ace pulled away and I gazed into his eyes. “Does this mean that I’m your helpless victim?” I whispered.

“If you want to be.”

“Absolutely,” I answered.

Ace’s mouth covered mine, and he kissed me down to my soul. I melted in his arms. I had waited years for this moment, and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

Several minutes later, we broke our passionate embrace. “I love this costume on you, Winnie. It’s so sexy,” Ace said, as he stroked my back. He nibbled my earlobe, and I pressed myself closer to him.

“Do you still like jazz, Winnie?” he asked.

I nodded. After all these years, he remembered. “Of course.”

Ace played with the veil hanging off my waist again. It seemed like he couldn’t keep his hands off of me; I didn’t mind one bit. “Why don’t we get out of here? I read in the paper that a little jazz club just opened up over in Cortland. We can relive our old memories and maybe make a few new ones.” Ace paused and licked his lips. “I’d be more than happy to drive you home afterward, Gwyneth.”

I grinned. From the look in Ace’s eyes, I had a feeling that we wouldn’t be at the jazz club for too long. He might have been driving me home, but I anticipated him waking up in my bed in the morning. I prayed that my pent-up fantasies about him would all be realized.

I leaned forward and kissed the side of his neck. “I’d love to. I’d go anywhere with you, Count.”

   I turned and saw Mallory standing in the hallway. She had a puzzled expression on her face. In all the excitement of meeting up with Ace again, I had forgotten all about her. I rested my head on Ace’s shoulder and smirked. “Oh, Mallory—here’s someone from my past I’d like you to meet.”   Analisa had been right about so much. The party, meeting the person from my past, and even the part I hadn’t dared to tell anyone about—the wedding! She had predicted that I’d be a June bride.

Ace and I were married on June 10th last year, and we couldn’t be happier. Fate delivered me my true love!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Me Or Your Junk—One of Us Has Got To Go!

Woman sitting on sofa surrounded by clothes.

“No! Don’t you dare take one step into this house with that—that thing!” I screeched—and after ten years of marriage to Jared, I could really screech.

“But, hon, this time I think I’ve found something—a real antique!”

I tried not to roll my eyes. I didn’t want to mention for the tenth time that the house itself needed renovations, not more junk. It would just make me sound like a nagging spouse again. I didn’t like what I was turning into when I spent time with my husband.

Today he was trying to sneak past me with some kind of “antique”, as he called his junk. This one was leaking some kind of oil and he hadn’t even bothered to wipe off the cobwebs before he got it into the car. I could actually hear my teeth grinding.

“Calm down, Sandra,” my mother would say. “In every good marriage, you have to learn to pick your battles.”

She was right, but this was one battle that I found myself battling more and more.  We had so much stuff in our two-car garage that we hadn’t been able to park even one car in there for five years now.

And it wasn’t just the normal stuff that a family accumulates, either, like bikes and skis. There were things Jared had brought home from garage and auction sales. He also picked up any old piece of furniture that his buddies wanted to take to the dump, but somehow Jared couldn’t bear to see them destroyed, so they inevitably ended up in our house.

We now had five complete sets of living room furniture cramped in the basement, the garage, and the attic. I refused to let him replace our nice set that I’d brought a few years earlier. If I didn’t watch him like a hawk he would take our good stuff to an auction house and use the money to buy more junk.

I kind of felt like that little Dutch boy who had to hold back all the water in the dam by himself. Jared just didn’t seem to realize that our home was fast becoming a junk store. Except that in junk stores at least some of the stuff disappeared out the door occasionally.

“Sandy, it’s my only hobby,” he said. “It’s not like I spend thousands of dollars on this. Look at Mark. He likes to golf, which wouldn’t be so bad, but he likes to golf on courses all around the world.”

Mark and Brenna were our neighbors. They’d worked hard all their lives and now had enough money to retire in style.

“All right, then. Why don’t you save your hobby for when we retire?” I asked.

“One day you’ll be sorry you’re not more supportive, Sandy. One day I’ll bring something home that will be worth a lot of money!”

“In my dreams.”

Most of our arguments ended with me trying to get away from Jared and his “hobby” for awhile. I’d go up to our room and read or I’d take my new car—the first car I’d ever owned—out for a long drive in the country.

I was sure that my sweet husband had crossed the line into mental illness. This wasn’t just a case of a wife not being able to put up with her husband’s junk. I couldn’t even walk through the hallways without having to dodge things laying around. There was just no other place to put them. Couldn’t he see what was happening to us?

Some people had a rule that when they brought one more thing into their home, something else would have to go. But Jared couldn’t bear to part with anything once he got it home. I’d overheard his friends offer him good money for some of the stuff, but he’d refused.

Still, I tried to understand. This was obviously something he felt strongly about—or something he couldn’t control. But I knew that he’d gone too far the day he started piling old shelving up in the corner of our bedroom.

“Jared, what are you doing? that stuff is dirty, and who knows how many insects are in that old wood? I don’t want it in our bedroom!”

He gave me a look that meant he wasn’t listening to me. His mind was on the next sale, the next “bargain”.

It didn’t stop there. The next day when I came home from work, half our bedroom was filled with old lumber and light fixtures that he’d gotten from a demolition team that had been tearing down an old office building.

“Jared, I can’t sleep in here with this mess! Please, get rid of it.”

“It’s only temporary, Sandy, just until I can bring in that used tool shed I bought from Hal. Then I can put all this lumber in there.”

“Jared, please listen to me. This is not normal. No one lives with this—this dirty old junk in their bedroom. Nobody except us.”

garage of an abandoned house

But he either wouldn’t listen or he didn’t know how. For the first time since all this had started, I was seriously considering leaving him. The thought of that nearly broke my heart, but when was he going to see reason? I was at my wit’s end.

I would have asked his mother for advice, but that poor woman was in a world of her own. Jared was devoted to her, calling and visiting her every other day. I’d learned the truth about Millie about a year into our marriage: she was an alcoholic. She could barely live on her own in her small house. She wouldn’t be any help to me in understanding her son and his bizarre behavior. Jared’s dad had died many years ago, when he was about fifteen. The two of them had been alone since then.

My heart went out to my husband. I sat on our bed staring out at the old bricks and boards stacked up around our bed and cried. How could something so good have gone so wrong?

When I met Jared, he was a sweet and vulnerable man. His jock friends would tease him constantly about his devotion to his mom and his nerdy ways. But when we started going out, he was considerate and polite, never seeming to get angry about anything. I thought he was just too good to be true.

At that time I thought it was kind of sweet that he saved things, like his leather jacket from his eight grade school basketball team. It was just something that men did, I thought. They seemed to have a need to hang onto things that women would typically consider junk.

I was falling in love with him. When he asked me to marry him, the world just took on a fairy tale quality. All these good things just couldn’t be happening to me! I was the one who wasn’t supposed to make anything out of my life. I had an older brother and sister who were very successful professionals. As for me, I’d barely passed high school and had to work hard for everything in life.

But meeting Jared—that was like bringing magic into my life. He treated me like I was the most special person in the world. We loved each other so much in those early days. We didn’t need anyone. We’d take long walks and spend the whole day talking, stopping for a quiet picnic lunch and laughing over the antics of the ducks on the nearby lake.

As for his mom, she was polite to me but didn’t seem to be all there. Jared looked out for her, always asking if she remembered to take her medication, if she’d eaten. It was only later that I learned he knew she was an alcoholic and wouldn’t eat for days at a time unless he reminded her. He wasn’t honest with me in those days. He would only say that his mom had been sick for years, but he was vague about what sort of sickness it was.

I did find it strange that neither Jared nor his mom seemed to have a picture of his father anywhere. They never talked about him, either. Whenever I asked about what he was like, I’d get the same blank stare from them both.

Still, Jared was the man of my dreams. I knew from the start that he liked to collect things. He had almost every toy he’d ever owned—and in mint condition, too.

When we got married, I surprised him by having a special cabinet built to hold all of his toys. When he saw it, he was elated.

“Sandy, you don’t know how much this means to me,” he’d said. “Thank you, honey. I knew from the moment we met that you were the one for me.”

It was quite a collection, too. Not only did he have his own toys in it, but there were some of his father’s toys, too. Jared admitted that much to me, although I had already guessed that the old cast iron piggy banks, wind-up toys, and a small teddy bear were much older than Jared. But that was about the only thing he’d ever said about his dad to me.

At first, I was the envy of my friends. Imagine having a man so sweet that he still had his teddy bear! They envied me that I had the nicest guy in our little circle.

But I didn’t know that his innocent-looking hobby was the start of something that would tear us apart. At first, he wanted to add to his toy collection. He’d buy books on the history of some of the toys. I was proud that he had a hobby that he loved. Some of my friends’ husbands spent their money on beer and gambling, but not my Jared.

But the toy collection became an obsession. Instead of spending time with me, he spent more and more time poring over his books on toys. Then it gradually spilled over into other things; he went to shows and conferences, becoming interested in comic books, baseball cards, you name it.

We began arguing about the cost of his hobby. He told me that instead of buying new clothes for himself, he’d rather spent it on buying his valued collectibles.

There were no more long picnics by the lake. There was very little time together at all.

“Sandy, why don’t you and Jared come over to our place for supper on Saturday night?” Brenna would ask.

But I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Jared’s life was equally divided between work and his hobby. He didn’t spend any time with me anymore. We just coexisted, with me watching television or reading and Jared taking inventory of his growing collection. Every weekend was taken up with antique and collector shows and sales.

Someone suggested that I try to get involved in his hobby, too. I would have, but I suspected that this wasn’t just a pastime for Jared; it was a real obsession. I didn’t want to contribute to that, but to wean him away from it.

But it didn’t work. I was spending more time on my own. After all, by then we’d been married for several years. I couldn’t expect the first heady feelings of romance to last forever. Married people had separate hobbies and interests, after all.

But we weren’t spending any time together at all. At that time I decided to have a talk with his mom, even though I doubted it would help.

It was an eerie feeling, talking to Millie. She was polite, but I could have been anyone who’d just dropped by her place instead of her only daughter-in-law. She was forgetting things lately. Jared was worried about her and was spending more time with her when he wasn’t busy with his collections. I didn’t begrudge him the time he spent with his mom. After all, she needed him, and it had been one of the things that had made me fall in love with him in the first place.

Millie didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. She did talk a little about Jared’s dad, though. “Jared’s a good boy. His father knows that, deep down.”

I frowned. She was talking about her dead husband as though he was still alive. I was beginning to worry about her. I knew that Jared came to her place each evening to turn off the breaker switch to her stove so that she wouldn’t get up at night and try to cook something. Several times he’d walked in and found something burning on the stove.

Pretty soon Jared and I would have to talk. Should we bring her to live with us? If we did we’d have to get rid of some of his junk to make room for her and make renovations. Truthfully, I couldn’t see her living alone for much longer. The good thing was that Millie wasn’t drinking so much nowadays. Maybe she was even forgetting to do that.

In any case, I knew I was alone with my problem. In fact, his mother’s condition only made Jared worse. I hardly ever saw him now. He spent much of his time with Millie, and the rest of the time he was furiously collecting everything that he thought might be valuable in the future. From toys he’d jumped to furniture to glassware to postcards, all in the space of a few months.

But it was all still collectible items, things that other people considered to be valuable. The day he started to stack newspapers on the kitchen table, I knew that there was something really wrong.

“Sandy, these will be worth something. If we can just keep saving—”

“Jared, I’ve heard that before. We just can’t save everything for thirty years or so until it’s valuable! What do you think this house is? A museum? We have to live here, too.”

Later that week I noticed a box full of used paper cups in the hallway. This time I didn’t even bother to confront him about it.

But the old, molding lumber in our bedroom—that was the final straw.

“Jared, I want us to go for counseling. We need to talk about this obsession of yours. And we need to talk about your mom, too.”

“What about my mom, Sandy?”

“Jared, can’t you see that she’s a danger to herself living on her own?”

“No counseling, Sandy, please. We can sort out our differences by ourselves.”

“No, we can’t. You don’t seem to think you have a problem.”

“No counseling,” he repeated. “A shrink would only bring up bad memories, anyway.”

“What bad memories?” I asked, but by this time Jared had stopped talking to me.

I didn’t know where else to turn. What do you do when there’s a serious problem in your marriage and your spouse refuses to acknowledge it? How were we going to start to make it right?”

I had no choice. One day, when Jared was at work, I wrote a note and left it on his pillow. By this time I had to tiptoe over old boards with rusty nails sticking out just to get to his side of the bed. I had to leave, if only to shock him into seeing that we were in crisis.

My worst fear was that he wouldn’t even know that I was gone. I spent that first night at a hotel. I didn’t want to stay with friends and admit that my marriage was crumbling, especially when they all thought I had the ideal husband. I thought of all the times I’d been so happy that my husband didn’t fool around our stay out to all hours with his buddies. I’d thought our marriage was as solid as granite.

The second day I found myself a small bachelor apartment near my work. I called Jared to tell him that I was okay and where I was staying, but I had to leave the message on the answering machine. I realized that if I went through with the divorce, it would no longer be my business to know where my husband was.

I was abandoning him when he needed me most. But the thing was, he didn’t see that he needed my help—or anyone else’s.

I didn’t know what to do about Millie. Jared and I had both looked after her. She didn’t have anyone else in the world. Did I continue to check up on her, or would he think that I no longer had the right to do that? I didn’t know what to do.

Millie hardly ever answered her phone anymore. A few years ago we had put our number on her speed dial so it would be easier for her to call us if she needed anything. I phoned several times, but she didn’t answer. I considered going over there and giving her my new number, but I thought it was likely that Jared hadn’t told her that we’d split up.

It took a long time for me to get into a new pattern of living. Most days my mind was more on Jared than it was on work. Then I seemed to cross a line where I didn’t want to think of him at all, concentrating instead on work.

But my friends at the office knew that something was wrong. I confided in a couple of them that I’d left my husband. They took me under their wing, inviting me out after work and on weekends, which was the worst time for me. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

I finally got up the courage to go and talk to Jared a few months later. There were things I wanted to know if I should go ahead and press for divorce. Surely any judge would clearly see that we had irreconcilable differences.

“Jared? Jared, are you here?” I called out. The front door was open so I’d gone in.

What I saw nearly knocked me to the floor.

The house was spotless. There was no junk around anywhere.

I must be dreaming, I thought. I went into the kitchen and saw a man working on the kitchen counter, laying down new Arborite—something I’d been begging Jared to do for years.

“Hello,” I greeted the contractor.

Kitchen

He turned and smiled at me. “Hello. You must be looking for Jared. He should be right back. He said he had to take some more things to the dump.”

To the dump?” I repeated, laughing. Maybe I’d walked into the wrong house!

I went to the living room to wait, still amazed that Jared had hired someone to redo the kitchen. What was going on here?

My curiosity got the better of me. I went upstairs. The first thing I noticed was that there was no more junk blocking the way. Jared had a habit of even putting stuff on the stairs. At first he would set things down on the very edge, but soon there would be hardly enough space to put your feet. Now the stairs were clear.

The upstairs hallway was empty, too. I crossed my fingers and sighed as I went to our bedroom, now Jared’s bedroom.

The whole room had been redone. It was beautiful. I’d shared my dreams for this room a few years ago with Jared. I wanted soft, relaxing colors, and here they were. There was a sage green carpet, off-white gauzy curtains, a twig chair in one corner. And a new bed! My hands went over my mouth in shock.

What had gotten into my husband? Or was this his way of starting a new life without me?

“Do you like it?”

I whirled around to see Jared standing in the doorway.

“Troy told me you were here. So what do you think?”

I stared at him, wanting to know if there was hope for us. “Jared, what’s going on?”

There was stress in his face, stress that hadn’t been there a few months ago. Had I caused all that?

“The day you left me was the worst day of my life, Sandy,” he said softly.

The guilt rushed in. I couldn’t talk right then. He looked at me for a long moment. “It wasn’t the best night for me, either,” he said. “That night, Mom set fire to her kitchen.”

Fire raging in domestic kitchen at night

“Oh, Jared, no! Why didn’t you call me?” But then I remembered that he didn’t know where I’d gone. I didn’t call to tell him for a couple of days.

“I didn’t go to see her that night.” He didn’t have to tell me that it was because of me. “The police called me. There had been a fire.”

“How is she?”

“She was fine. She was trying to cook dinner for all of us. For some reason she thought we were going to her place for dinner. She left a pot on the stove and it boiled over and started the fire. When I got there, I couldn’t find her, Sandy. I couldn’t find her. There were cops and firefighters all over the place. Finally, a neighbor approached me. Mom had gone over there as soon as she saw all the smoke.”

“Thank God,” I said, letting out the breath I’d been holding in.

“Yes, thank God.”

“So what about the house . . . destroyed?”

“The kitchen was gutted. I decided it was as good a time as any for Mom to try out a nursing home. I found a private place for her where she has some independence, but she has supervision, too.”

“Jared, I’m sorry. So sorry. For everything.”

“I’ve had time to think since you’ve been gone, Sandy. I never really thanked you for what you’ve been doing for Mom over the years. I thought I was the one who looked after her all by myself. But I was wrong.”

“I’m just sorry that this had to happen, Jared.”

“No, don’t apologize. There’s more—much more. Sandy, remember that I was always telling you that one day one of the things I brought home would make us rich? Well, it happened.”

“It . . . did?” That explained the renovations.

“Do you remember my toy collection, especially the older toys?”

I nodded. How could I forget? When we were first married, I’d been proud of Jared’s collection—until all the craziness started.

“I hit pay dirt. Almost every one of my dad’s old toys was worth a lot of money. He had those old piggy banks, remember? And all those tin toys, some from his own father. I even had a couple of dolls from his mother. But it was the teddy bear. Remember that bear? It was worth the most.”

I looked around. I could hardly believe it. Even so, I wondered how Jared could bring himself to part with his treasured toys.

“But you loved those toys, Jared. It was the only thing you had to remember your father by.”

His face twisted in a bitter smile. “Oh, no, Sandy. You’re wrong about that. I have memories from my father. Hateful memories. Do you know what drove Mom to booze? It was him. He beat her, and when she couldn’t prevent it, he beat me, too.”

He lifted his shirt. There was an old scar on his ribs. I remembered when I’d asked him about it years ago he’d said it was a childhood injury.

“This is where he burned me, when I couldn’t recite my tables fast enough,” he said quietly, pulling down his shirt again. “That’s the truth about that.”

“Oh, Jared.” The tears were coming fast and furious. I couldn’t help it.

“There’s more, but it doesn’t matter. Mom’s got a lot more scars than me. Every day with that man was a day of terror. Thank God he left us when I was about fourteen.”

“He left? Then he might still be alive?”

“If the booze hasn’t got him by now. I don’t care, Sandy. He’s out of our lives.”

“Jared, why didn’t you ever tell me any of this before?”

“I didn’t figure you’d understand. When we started dating, I could see that you came from a nice family. You lived in a good neighborhood and your parents cared about you. I envied you, Sandy.”

I could hardly take this all in. There was so much about my husband that I didn’t know. No wonder he couldn’t talk to me about his past! And no wonder he had such a bond with his mother. The two of them had survived that misery together.

Jared told me that most of the money from his father’s toy collection went to pay for his mother’s care.

“Then how did you pay for all this?” I asked.

“We had saved for it, remember? You forgot about the account you started years ago. Then each month I’d been putting some cash aside, adding to it. It’s grown quite a lot over time.”

“But, Jared, why now? I mean, I’d left you.”

“I know, Sandy. But I wanted to get you back.”

“Jared, you didn’t have to do this to get me back. What really impressed me was the fact that all the junk is gone! How did you part with it?”

“I thought about what you’d said. Here I was, sitting alone in a house full of junk. It wasn’t an investment, it was just trash. I knew that I’d either have to get a handle on this obsession or I’d lose you for good. And I don’t want to lose you, Sandy.”

He came to me and gave me a hug. It felt so good. We just held each other tightly for a long time. I missed his scent, the way he felt in my arms. I’d missed him with my whole heart.

“The bed is empty now,” he whispered softly.

“I can see that.”

“Lots of room for . . . whatever you might have in mind.”

“Oh, I have a lot on my mind right now,” I told him.

Just then we felt another presence in the room. We looked around and saw the contractor standing in the doorway.

“I—er, just wanted to tell you that you had a phone call, Jared,” Troy said. “Some lady from the nursing home? She says to get over there right away.”

Jared and I stared at each other. Something must have happened to his mom!

“I’ll go, Sandy. You stay here.”

“Are you kidding? I’m going, too.”

It was a good thing there were no cops around, because we must have broken every speeding record getting to the home. As Jared pulled up in front I noticed that it was a very nice place. I told myself that nothing bad could happen to her in a place like that.

“I’m Jared Spencer. Someone called about my mother,” Jared told the woman at the front desk.

The receptionist said she’d page the nurse in charge. It seemed like forever until a petite woman in a uniform came out to us.

“Let’s talk in here, Mr. and Mrs. Spencer,” she said, leading us to a quiet room.

I could tell that Jared was just barely keeping control. I knew he wanted to shake the truth out of that nurse. What had happened to his mother?

“Mr. Spencer, you mother is missing,” she began.

Missing? What are you talking about?”

“She’s missing. We think she’s been gone for a couple of hours.”

“A couple of hours! Why didn’t you call me before?”

“We did, but no one answered,” the woman explained.

“I know what happened, Jared,” I said. “Troy was working on the kitchen counter, there was a lot of noise. He probably didn’t hear the phone ringing at first.”

Jared turned to the nurse. “That doesn’t matter now. Where’s my mother?”

“The police are out searching for her. Do you know where she might have gone?”

“Maybe to the old house. She might have gone there. I was having it fixed after the fire so we could sell it.”

He took me by the arm. “Come on, Sandy. I have a feeling she might have tried to get back there.”

We drove to the old house. Along the way was the river. I didn’t want to look down as we drove over the bridge. I didn’t want to think of my mother-in-law trying to cross the bridge on her own—or worse still, coming to the riverbank and trying to wade across. From what Jared was saying, she was no longer thinking clearly anymore. But when we got to Millie’s old house, there was no one there.

We went inside. The workers were almost done with the repairs to the kitchen. There was no sign of the fire anymore. We walked through the rooms, thinking that somehow she might have climbed in through a window and was hiding somewhere.

It broke my heart to think of her yearning for her old home. I knew that Jared had to put her in some kind of home, especially after I’d left him. Who would have looked after her when he was at work? She was obviously a danger to herself when she was alone.

I made a vow then. If we found her I would find a way to work this out with Jared. I didn’t want to think of her living among strangers all day long. I could cut back on my hours at work so that she could come live with us.

I didn’t know how it was all going to work out. But judging by the look on Jared’s face as he searched the house, I knew I had to try something. We were a family, the three of us.

“Honey, we’ll find her. We will,” I assured him, drawing him into my arms. I could feel his back convulse with sobs. He really loved his mother. “And when we find her, I want to bring her home with us. What would you say, having both your favorite women under the same roof?”

He nodded, but I could tell that his mind was on finding her.

“Let’s call the police. Maybe we could help in their search,” I told him.

The hardest thing to face was the night. The police kept looking on city streets then, but they didn’t look in wooded areas until dawn, when it was lighter out. We had a very long, sleepless night.

“We wanted to know how this happened. How, when she was supposed to be in a secure place, could she just walk away without anyone knowing?

“It happens,” the nursing home director told me. “Your mother-in-law didn’t look sick; she didn’t look like she had dementia. We suspect that she just walked up to a visitor and left at the same time. The other person likely had no idea that she was one of our patients.”

It seemed incredible to me that it could happen. Another family might be thinking of a lawsuit, but we just wanted Mom back. I knew that my husband wouldn’t eat or sleep until she was found.

The next day, Jared opened up to me. He told me that he loved me, and he held me so tight I wondered if I’d have bruises afterward. But I’d been waiting for this moment all of our married lives. We were close again.

“I can’t lose you again, Sandy. When we find Mom, I want to hire a companion for her. I’ll build an apartment onto the house—there’s still enough money for that. And Sandy, I want you to follow your dream, the one you’ve been holding inside ever since I met you, and even before.”

“My dream? You’re not talking about that little design business I wanted once?”

“Yes. Why not? Haven’t we got proof, right here and now, that life is too short to pack away for dreams?”

“But I don’t even know if I could do that now.”

“Just think about it, honey,” he insisted.

“All right. I’ll think about it later. After we bring Mom home.”

We talked far into the night. Neither of us could sleep, and we wanted to be right by the phone in case the police called to say they’d found her. Jared told me that he’d started counseling right after I’d left. The counselor told him that his junk addiction had something to do with his father’s abuse. It was like he hadn’t been able to let go either of his father or of the “priceless treasures” that he’d started to hoard.

Jared himself wasn’t sure how it all blended together, but he was finding that the more junk he threw away, the freer he felt. He found he could think about his father now without all the terrible emotions.

“It’s like I feel numb, almost like all of that happened to someone else. But it happened to me. I have the scars to prove it, both physical scars and emotional. But now I know that my obsession was driving you away, Sandy, and I don’t ever want to do that again. You’re the best thing in my life.”

He told me that he realized how much it must have hurt me, someone who loved interior design, to see my house go from a lovely place to a makeshift junkyard.

“I think I’m ready to be a good husband now. But you’ll have to help me. The only role model I had for a husband wasn’t the greatest,” he said.

“I’ll give you all the time you need, babe,” I said, smiling and holding his hand tightly.

Suddenly, the phone rang. I waited while Jared spoke to the police. His face lit up.

“They found her! Sandy—they found her!”

We rushed to the hospital where they’d taken my mother-in-law. I still held Jared’s hand on the drive there and when we rushed to the emergency entrance. We found her laying on one of the curtained beds.

“Mom!” Jared cried as he hugged her.

“She’s broken her hip,” the doctor told me. “We’re just calling the surgeon now to repair it. We’ll give you a few moments alone.”

Millie looked confused and pale, but other than her broken hip, she seemed to be all right. I was right about my premonition on the river: The police had found her trying to cross it. She’d fallen down the bank and was half in and half out of the water. No one knew how long she’d been there, but thank God they’d found her.

Jared blamed himself for putting her in the home; I blamed myself for not being there for him. In the end, we both agreed blame was useless. We brought her home, where she recovered from her hip surgery. When she was well enough we hired a part-time companion for her as a respite to me while I worked on my new home business of interior design. That summer she was well enough to travel, so we rented a beach cottage and had the best time of our lives.

She lived for a year and a half after her fall by the river. We had some good times, the three of us. I comforted Jared at her funeral, and by that time Millie and I had grown so close that he needed to comfort me, too.

I think about the time I left him and I wonder what would have happened if I’d gone through with the divorce. Not having Jared in my life would have been the biggest mistake I’d ever made. But these days we’re joyfully talking about growing old together.

I’m certainly looking forward to it.

3 Stories from Losing It For Love: TruLove Collection

Always there to motivate each othrer

All of us long for true love. Unfortunately, however, some of us despair of ever finding it. Often it’s because we live with a gripping sense of defeat brought on by some unwanted feature. Usually our nemesis is our weight, although sometimes it’s a particular part of our body, like a nose or a chin that is undeniably out of proportion to the rest of our face.

There are more than enough thoughtless or shallow people in the world who may insist upon defining us by our single most troubling physical feature. We’re fat, we’re ugly, we’re not sexy.

Here are three stories from Losing It For Love:

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